Tim Jenkins is in the money and investment business. As the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games approached, all he could think of was how to profit from them.
Jenkins did not end up making a lot of money, but he gained something he now considers much more valuable.
"Most of my conversations with friends and my thoughts leading up to the Games were about how much money do you think we can make from renting our house, our car, whatever we have," said Jenkins, 29, a principal in Keystone Financial Group LLC in Lexington.
Jenkins had a rental agency look over his modest 1950s home. He was told that he could get $1,000 a night if he signed up and paid some fees. He declined. "That seemed outrageous," he said. "I wouldn't pay that to rent my house."
Still, Jenkins found a renter. A client who runs a bed-and-breakfast had filled her rooms, so she referred a family coming from South Africa to him. They negotiated a price that Jenkins said was a good deal for him and a substantial savings from the hotel bookings they were able to cancel. "It was worth it for my wife and I to do it, but it really wasn't that much money," he said.
As the Games drew nearer, Jenkins started catching the spirit. He volunteered as a driver, picking up international team members at the airport and taking them to their hotels. On one trip, he pulled into a gas station to buy beer for some thirsty Argentines.
When Leon and Elizabeth van Tubbergh arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa, with her mother, sister and brother, Jenkins settled them into his home and drove them around Lexington to help them get their bearings.
"They said, 'Where can we get some fried chicken?' and 'What about biscuits and gravy?" Jenkins said. "They had been looking forward for four years to coming to where we live every day. It dawned on me that we needed to be good hosts."
As it turned out, the van Tubberghs were the same ages as Jenkins and his wife, Lisa. "We had a lot in common," he said.
Soon it was the van Tubberghs' turn to play host. They invited the Jenkins family to their own home for a barbecue, or what South Africans call a "braai." The van Tubberghs cooked lamb and sausages on the Jenkinses' grill. They also invited the neighbors, who brought Derby-Pie, bourbon balls and bourbon cream sauce.
"We were having an international experience right on our itty-bitty deck," Jenkins said. "And it was just because people wanted to get together and learn about each other. It was just about life, but it really opened up our minds."
In an e-mail message from South Africa, Elizabeth van Tubbergh wrote last week that her family was impressed with the Games, Kentucky's beauty, and bourbon cream, "which is to die for — it's going to become a staple in our family!"
But what impressed her most were average Kentuckians, "the utter friendliness we encountered," she wrote. The Afrikaans word for it is "grasvry," which she said translates roughly to "hospitable."
"Tim was an amazing host, and we wanted for nothing while we stayed in his and Lisa's home," she wrote, adding that he borrowed a bike so her husband could ride the Legacy Trail. "That we could stay in their home was just lucky. Or fate maybe?"
The Jenkinses now have their home back, and a little extra money in their pockets. But they need more, because they are saving for a trip to South Africa next fall. They will visit the van Tubberghs and tour their country. "Elizabeth is mapping it all out for us," he said.
Jenkins said he has been reflecting on how much the Games enriched his life.
"When it was all over, I realized that value doesn't always come in the form of that dollar," he said. "I deal with people and their money every day. But this was a unique opportunity to put money behind us and just be people, people who have a lot in common even though they live on the other side of the world from each other."
The next time Lexington has an opportunity like the Games, Jenkins said, "I would encourage everyone to focus on the experience and the opportunity to be gracious hosts. If you focus on the money, you're missing the point."
Reach Tom Eblen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.