Meet Our Donors: Joel and Rosemary McElhannon – Jekyll Island Foundation

Meet Our Donors: Joel and Rosemary McElhannon

Worth the Drive: Fifteen Years of Family Visits to Jekyll

The drive from home in Athens, Georgia, to Jekyll Island is nearly three hundred miles for the McElhannon family—usually a full five hours in the car. But once Joel and Rosemary and their daughters, Maryn and Cora, reach the shores of Jekyll Island, the road trip becomes just a distant memory. The family hears the soft waves of the Atlantic, smells the distinct salty air, and sees the shimmering sand around them. Time on Jekyll is always worth the effort of the trip.

For the McElhannons, a visit to Jekyll Island means they’re coming back to a place where so many happy life memories and moments unfolded and where so many more are ready to be created. 

It All Started at the Chapel

Though not Jekyll natives, the McElhannons started their life together on this pristine island when Joel proposed to Rosemary in August 2008, right inside the historic Faith Chapel. Since 1904, Jekyll’s Faith Chapel has hosted hundreds of blissful unions, and the McElhannons chose to say their vows in this beautiful little building. The cypress-shingle ceiling, heart pine wood floors, and Tiffany studio stained-glass window created a warm, intimate setting for the ceremony.

After their chapel wedding in February 2009, Joel and Rosemary enjoyed an elegant reception at the historic Crane Cottage down the road, and even made their first donations as a family to the Jekyll Island Foundation and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in honor of their wedding guests.

History to Enjoy Together Now

Since 2009, the family’s adventures on Jekyll Island have continued, combined with personal investment in this island paradise. Spending time together in this place has always been a priority—Joel and Rosemary are bringing their girls along to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary at Jekyll this year. And they’ve donated regularly to the various initiatives of the Jekyll Island Foundation to help make sure that they and others can continue to enjoy this favorite vacation spot.

“We have always been very involved in supporting historic preservation projects,” Rosemary explained. “And we believe it is important to be stewards of the past—to pass it on to future generations. Jekyll Island has so much history, such a legacy, but few people know about it!”

On a recent trip to Jekyll, Joel and Rosemary asked their girls what they loved most about Jekyll, and they had no trouble answering: bike riding, Driftwood Beach, fried shrimp, and sea turtles. During Spring Break, they’ve all found weather on Jekyll to be perfect for bike riding and exploring the island. And it has become a tradition for them to enjoy the week with their grandparents, Ned and Claire Harbeson, who have owned property on Jekyll for nearly twenty years.

“The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a huge draw for the girls,” the McElhannons stated. “Every time they’re on the island, they have to stop by to see the patients. There are few places where you can safely get up close with wildlife, so the center is a great way to teach the girls what it takes to care for the wildlife of the island.”

The girls’ ability to enjoy the natural beauty of the island is another benefit of the family’s Jekyll trips. “I can’t tell you how many hours the girls have spent slowly trolling Sharktooth Beach and Driftwood Beach, bent over at the waist, looking for shells, teeth, and other treasures,” Rosemary explains. “Hours can pass, and they are perfectly content. In this age of screens and videos games, that’s a really incredible thing!”

Meanwhile, Rosemary and Joel love to stroll around the Jekyll Island Historic District to see how things have changed over the years. As the Jekyll Island Foundation celebrates and commemorates its twenty-fifth year, the McElhannons are thankful to be a part of the steady work of raising funds for conservation, preservation, and education initiatives through their charitable giving. “The ongoing preservation efforts make us feel good,” Joel says, “because we know we are part of that effort.”

Contact Us

Jekyll Island Foundation

P.O. Box 13002, Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Phone: (912) 635-4100


Looking to contact the Jekyll Island Authority? Please click here.