kellie smith boone - distinguished alumni award DSC_8809.jpg

Date: August 13, 2020
CONTACT: Lisa Garrett,

By Lisa Garrett

 Kellie Smith Boone Honored with Tri-County’s Distinguished Alumni Award

PENDLETON - Nineteen years ago Kellie Smith Boone walked across the stage at the Anderson Civic Center and received her associate in arts degree at Tri-County Technical College’s spring commencement.

 Since that day, she has worked in manufacturing facilities in Oconee County, beginning her career at Koyo Bearings in Walhalla, where she started as an operator in production and quickly moved up the ladder into human resources.  She says her Tri-County degree paved the way. 

 The College honored Boone August 13 with the Distinguished Alumni Award. The award highlights her dedication to her alma mater. The recipient of this award must have been awarded a degree, diploma or certificate from Tri-County; must have graduated at least one year ago; and must have made significant contributions to the College, the Alumni Association or the community.

 Boone spent 16 years at Koyo  - most recently as a human resources generalist until joining Horton’s team as human resources manager late last year.  (Horton is Oconee County’s newest manufacturing facility.)  She always is pleased when she sees Tri-County on an applicant’s resume -- whether it’s an associate degree or the South Carolina Manufacturing Certification (SCMC).  

 In particular, she says Tri-County’s CNC curriculum gives graduates the skills needed to operate machinery that requires precision and attention to detail.  “We will need these associates, especially with our injection molding component.  They will play a vital role in our success,” she said.

 Horton’s proximity to the College’s Oconee Campus is a real plus, she said.  “Tri-County will serve as a feeder for us. Tri-County and the Hamilton Career Center are our partners in supplying future Horton employees.  It makes me smile that we are located so close to the campus.”

 Horton and other industries are located in the Oconee Industry and Technology Park, located on Highway 11 in Westminster. It co-locates the Oconee Campus of Tri-County Technical College, a new career center for high school students and industry.  

 Executives at Horton’s home office in Minnesota understand and recognize that they have the ideal set up for hiring future Horton employees, said Boone.

 “When they heard we are virtually a stone’s throw from the Oconee Campus, they said they had never seen anything like this.  It’s an awesome set up. They are excited about having a potential skilled workforce nearby,” she said.  Boone hopes to expand the business/education/industrial partnership to include co-ops and internships that will give valuable work experience to Tri-County students, as well as high school students who enter the Technical Career Pathways program and have just one year left to earn an associate degree.

 “Horton put their building in the right place. There’s no better location in Oconee County,” she said.

As human resources manager, Boone is responsible for recruiting and hiring for all hourly and salaried positions, payroll and benefits, training and development and employee/public relations.

When seeking candidates for job openings, she says she looks for Tri-County Technical College when reviewing resumes.  “I know what Tri-County graduates can do,” said Boone.  “I’m proud I started at Tri-County.”

Boone and Alicia Kelley, a Tri-County Technical College alumna, who is the quality engineer, were among the first to be hired at Horton.

Clemson University graduate Sam Vella came on board as plant manager in 2020 and joining them on February 24 was Chris Rothell, a 1997 Tri-County industrial electronics technology graduate who serves as maintenance group leader.  The goal is to have 125 employees over the next five years, she said.

Boone said her years as a human resources generalist at Koyo’s Oconee plant and in its corporate office in Greenville prepared her to lead the HR team at Horton.  “It was hard to leave Koyo,” she said.  “I learned what I needed to be a manager from former boss, Todd Massenburg.  I knew I was ready for the next steps but still it was bittersweet leaving Koyo because they were like family to me.  I wanted more responsibility and I also wanted to stay in Oconee County,” she said.

That’s one of the reasons she chose Tri-County as an 18-year-old graduate of Walhalla High School.

An honor student in the top 10% of her class, Boone was awarded a full scholarship to the college of her choice.  She and her mother began to visit colleges.  The College of Art and Design in Savannah was her first choice, followed by the College of Charleston and Clemson University. 

“But when it was all said and done, I’m a small town girl. I was a little shy and Tri-County was down the road.  It was perfect for me.  They offered a university transfer curriculum and small class size.  I enrolled at Tri-County and stayed close to home.  I don’t regret it at all,” she said. 

She graduated from Tri-County debt free.

She attended Tri-County on a Life scholarship and received an Abney Foundation scholarship. “I didn’t even pay for books,” she said. 

“I made the right decision.  I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t take the steps I did years ago,” she added. 

At Koyo she quickly was promoted internally from second-shift operator to data processing clerk in the office.  Koyo’s tuition reimbursement program paid for her bachelor’s degree in business administration which she earned at Limestone College (online) in 2012.  

“I was hired at age 20 because of my Tri-County degree,” she said.  “I got my foot in the door and worked my way up,” she said.

“I love human resources.  I care about people.  I understand what they go through.  I make sure I listen to the associates on the shop floor and respond to their issues quickly. A good HR person knows the workforce personally -- by name -- and their stories.  I often offer advice if they come to me.  I truly care and want to see them succeed.”

They also know her story -- that she began at Tri-County and held multiple positions in various departments at Koyo until 2013 when she was promoted to human resources generalist where she stayed until last October.

 “I knew the plant inside and out.  It made me a better HR generalist,” she said. 

She encourages her associates to further their education at Tri-County.

“I had a great leader and coach in Todd so I try to pay it forward by serving as a mentor to associates. He knew the process and I knew the people.  That made us an effective team.  Together we made it work,” she said.

“But after 16 years I had gone as far as I could go and it was time to branch out,” she said.  A recruiter reached out to her and said her work ethic, attitude and experience made her the perfect candidate for the job at Horton.   “I flew to Horton’s corporate office for an interview.  I had a good feeling about the meeting and I was offered the job within a few days,” she said.

“Todd invested in me as an associate and it’s what I want to do for others – to pay it forward.  If I make a difference in one life, then I have done my job.”

Boone and her husband, Greg, live in Seneca.


About Tri-County Technical College
Tri-County Technical College, a public two-year community and technical college serving Anderson, Oconee and Pickens Counties in South Carolina, enrolls more than 9,000 students annually and offers more than 70 major fields of study, including computer technology, industrial electronics, mechatronics, nursing, and university transfer programs. Tri-County boasts the highest student success rate among two-year colleges in the state and ranks in the top one percent nationally for successful student transfers to four-year colleges and universities.