Glenn Reese may have lost his re-election bid after 30 years in the S.C. Senate, but some say Spartanburg County is losing one of its biggest advocates.
“It’s Spartanburg’s loss, and it’s a big loss,” said former State Rep. Brenda Lee Pryce of Spartanburg, who worked with Reese in the legislature for many years. “He worked across party lines, not just for the Democrats, but his constituency base.”
The popular owner of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in Spartanburg and Anderson, Reese has built a legacy and made many friends over the past few decades.
He has no plans to run again, but said during an interview Tuesday he plans to write a book about his life and devote more time to the money-making doughnut franchises.
ONE FEWER DEMOCRAT
Reese and Pryce are among the few Democrats to have represented the heavily Republican Spartanburg County. Pryce was succeeded by Democratic Rep. Harold Mitchell, who has since retired.
Reese lost Nov. 5 to Republican Josh Kimbrell, who was sworn in as Reese’s successor Monday.
During the campaign, Kimbrell accused Reese of not being conservative enough for a Republican-majority district. He also accused Reese of being anti-Second Amendment, which Reese vehemently denied.
“I support the Second Amendment and have a South Carolina (gun) permit and an out-of-state permit,” he said.
Reese said that may have cost him support, along with many who voted a straight Republican ticket.
Kimbrell said he had many policy differences with Reese but holds no grudges.
“I appreciate his service over the years,” Kimbrell said. “He is a good person who’s done many things for the county, and I appreciate his service in the legislature. I still think he makes the best doughnuts.”
Reese’s loss leaves only two Democrats out of nearly 30 elected positions in the county — Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers of House District 31 and Democrat Mo Abusaft of District 1 on Spartanburg County Council.
Reese said much of his base was in minority areas in Spartanburg. Over time, through redistricting and growth in the northern part of the county, that base dwindled.
“Glenn did a wonderful job for Spartanburg and did a lot of good things,” said District 36 State Rep. Rita Allison of Lyman. “He will be missed.”
While Reese did not introduce many bills during his tenure, his strength was constituent services.
“We helped everybody,” Reese said.
Pryce provided an example.
“I got a call two weeks ago from a lady who had an issue with her brother and one of the state agencies,” said Pryce. “I gave her Senator Reese’s number. She called back and said. ‘I can’t believe it, we’ve been working six months to straighten this out.’ She explained that he took care of it.
“That’s the kind of senator he was,” Pryce said. “Senator Reese worked for his constituents. You can see his footprint all over the district.”
Reese was also a go-getter when it came to bringing home the bacon.
In three decades, Reese has helped to bring $60 million in grants to Spartanburg County.
“The money is going somewhere,” he said. “I always tried to make sure Spartanburg got more than its fair share.
“This district is the most important in Spartanburg County, where I-85 and 26 cross, two hospitals, and the Memorial Auditorium.”
In 1993, he said he secured $2 million for Jerry Richardson’s Denny’s headquarters building in Spartanburg, followed by luring Richardson to bring the Carolina Panthers summer training camp to Wofford College.
“I was a rookie back then,” Reese recalled. “I learned real quick where to find that (grant money).”
Projects Reese worked on include:
- Public park funding for Landrum, Inman, Wellford, and Chesnee
-Renovations at the University of South Carolina Upstate
- Funding for the Charles Lea Center; Spartanburg Community College and ReGenesis Health Care
He said he even convinced the Legislature to buy undeveloped St. Phillips Island from media mogul Ted Turner, who sold it to the State of South Carolina in 2018 for $4.9 million. It first went on the market in 2014 for $24 million.
Protected by a conservation easement, today, the 4,682-acre property off Hilton Head Island is open to the public.
Allen Smith, president and CEO of OneSpartanburg, Inc., said Reese has been instrumental in helping Spartanburg to grow.
“Last year, Senator Reese scored a 90 percent on issues of importance to the business community,” Smith said. “As a small business owner himself, he understood how decisions made or delayed could impact local commerce and more often than not, voted accordingly.
“On behalf of the business community, we appreciate his leadership. We are confident Mr. Kimbrell will continue the pro-business legacy of SC Senate District 11 and look forward to working with him.”
A FRIEND OF ALL
Pryce said Reese was also very sensitive to racial issues.
“Without Senator Reese, I do not believe we would have one African-American magistrate,” she said. “He was just a good person.”
Reese said the saddest day in his Senate tenure was in June 2015 when he learned that fellow Sen. Clementa Pinckney was among the nine African-Americans killed in a racially motivated mass shooting at Pinckney’s church where he pastored, Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
“We were good friends,” Reese said of the fellow Democrat. “Until that time, my feeling was we turned the corner on racism.”
Born in Greenville, Reese grew up in Spartanburg County. He worked summer jobs picking and sorting peaches and as a lifeguard at Silver Lake and Rainbow Lake.
He graduated from Chapman High School in Inman in 1959 and earned degrees at Mars Hill Junior College and Auburn University.
In 1963, he began teaching at James F. Byrnes High School and taught 19 years there and at Pacolet, Gaffney and Boiling Springs high schools.
He also began officiating high school basketball that year and continued to officiate basketball for nearly 40 years. He also officiated games in Eastern Europe.
His father, W.W. Reese, ran Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on North Church Street, beginning in 1966. In 1979 when his father died, Glenn began managing the family business as a Krispy Kreme franchisee. In 2014, he opened another Krispy Kreme in Anderson.
In 1970, he married Janis Dearybury. They have four children and nine grandchildren.
Reese said after a career of teaching and officiating, he decided to try politics. At age 48, he ran for state Senate in 1990 in District 11 and won. He faced several challengers each election since but kept winning.
Reese said the late textile magnate Roger Milliken, owner of Milliken & Co. in Reese’s district, respected him and never opposed him though Milliken was a staunch Republican.
“I never put (Democrat) party on any signs because I was a nonpartisan candidate,” Reese said.
A FRIEND OF PRESIDENTS
In politics, Reese and his Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store have been a magnet for Democratic presidential candidates over three decades.
He said he met and spent time with former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and last year, met future president Joe Biden.
“I got to know those presidents personally,” he said with a proud grin, adding that he believes their visits to his doughnut store early in the campaigns helped boost them to victory.
On declared President-elect Biden, Reese said, “He’ll be great. People are afraid of Democratic extremes, as they are of Republican extremes. The next four years won’t be extremes with Congress evenly divided.”
He also got to meet with Republican John McCain in 2006 during a visit with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“It was a wonderful visit,” Reese said of McCain. “He was the real deal — a great soldier and citizen.”
Other personalities, like the late Regis Philbin and Carolina Panthers players, have also stopped at Krispy Kreme, as iconic for photo ops as the Beacon or Wade’s restaurants in Spartanburg.
Meanwhile, still going strong at 78 — he turns 79 in January — Reese said he plans to focus most of his attention on his doughnut franchises and spending time with his family.
“I have no plan to run again,” he said. “I figured it would happen sooner or later. I enjoyed it. It was a great job."