Following tours around the world, a former military family settles down in a 5,309-square-foot home outside of Siler City
By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photography by Jessica Berkowitz
After 30 years of active duty, Marine Corps Col. David Eskelund retired in 2019 to finally put down roots with his wife, Kristi Eskelund, and build a legacy homestead outside of Siler City. David was the first commanding officer of the Marine Corps Logistics Operations Group, and their family had lived in 17 different temporary homes on and off military bases in the U.S. and Europe. Because of this, they knew exactly what they wanted in a permanent place to call their own.
The 5,309-square-foot home sits on more than 25 acres near Rives Chapel Baptist Church and was completed in 2019 just months before the pandemic lockdown. The couple’s two youngest kids, who still live at home, were joined by their three older siblings who were already married and living in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The entire family, including one grandchild, quarantined together and filled all six bedrooms and six full bathrooms. And Kristi’s mother, who visits from Elkin, North Carolina, used the one-bedroom apartment above the three-car garage and workshop.
“I would say probably providence led us here,” David says, referring to friends they met more than 20 years ago who are now their next-door neighbors. UNC pediatric surgeon Tim Weiner and his wife, Meredith Weiner, offered to sell part of their property when David was ready to retire.
Kristi says, “Truly, I mean [all of this is] provided by God and these relationships from years ago.”
Inside the Manse
A paved, covered walkway connects the workshop and garage to the wide front porch of the main house. A line of shoes by the mudroom hints at all the family members inside. The first room in the house is Kristi’s favorite – the library – where sofa cushions hide a pullout bed and a full bathroom is just steps away.
The 10-foot-high ceilings open to an expansive gathering space where a massive kitchen island overlooks the dining and living room areas. Two sets of sliding glass doors lead to an outdoor dining area, a screened-in living room and a sunset viewing deck off of the master bedroom on the main floor. All of these rooms overlook the 20-by-40-foot heated swimming pool. Downstairs, there’s another apartment with two bedrooms, two full bathrooms and its own kitchen and living spaces. On the top floor, a landing room separates two more bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.
A centerpiece of the master suite is a soaking bathtub made of copper, which holds heat longer than other materials. Kristi’s affinity for copper is evident throughout the home, and she displays her china collection in a copper-toned Drexel hutch. But Kristi says the true family heirloom piece is a handmade tapestry she and her kids created years ago during home schooling lessons about medieval art.
“We spent a lot of time [on] this,” Kristi says, adding that the tapestry was shown during the county and state fairs. “This is the must-grab item in case of fire. It’s an heirloom. It says so much about our family and how we did things.” Kristi, a former high school teacher, is a substitute teacher in the Chatham County Schools system and a competitive speech and debate coach.
David, who is a decorated veteran and a former director of the Marine Corps War College, is also a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. He is well aware that farms and homesteads require considerable resources – and a sense of humor.
“You know the old joke about how you become a millionaire farmer? You start with 2 million,” David laughs. “I got some great advice from a farmer who told me all his livestock does is try to figure out how to kill themselves every day. He was exactly right. You know, ’cause I envisioned these low maintenance animals … there ain’t no such thing.”
The Eskelunds plan to build a 4,000-square-foot event barn and to launch new businesses. One will involve breeding and selling Olde English Southdown babydoll sheep, and another, breeding Great Pyrenees dogs trained specifically to guard and herd livestock.
“The great thing about transitioning from a very fast-paced global life is that now we have time,” David says. “The last two years we’ve spent our time focused on planning and getting set up here. The barn will be the next piece of that.”
Ties That Bind
In 2000, David was stationed in Camp Lejeune in eastern North Carolina, and Kristi was pregnant with conjoined twins. They were referred to UNC where they met Tim, the pediatric surgeon who became a part of their extended family.
In 2001, Lydia Joy Eskelund and Anneka Mercy Eskelund were born on Kristi’s birthday, Jan. 10. The team of surgeons – including Tim – were able to successfully separate the twins, but despite best efforts, Anneka drew her last breath six months later.
“This man is incredible,” Kristi says, referring to Tim. “But not only him, the whole UNC community was phenomenal. You’re all going through trauma together, and really, they are too. It really does bind you together. And, what’s been really awesome is the way they’ve all followed [Lydia] as she’s grown up… They don’t get to see that all the time. Very often, they do their thing, and then people go away and that’s all they ever know, but she’s growing up next door.”
Tim and Meredith, who are like godparents to Lydia, sold part of their own property to David and Kristi in 2018. The experience with Lydia and Anneka inspired the Eskelund Award for Excellence in Pediatric Surgery, which is given to a first-, second- and third-year resident at UNC School of Medicine in recognition of the ability to manage a whole family’s experience beyond patient diagnosis and care.
“My daughter has been able to go and present that award sometimes,” Kristi says. “There was one year, in particular, when that was her big question – why did I survive and she didn’t? There’s not a great answer for that … We [told her], ‘We did the very, very best to have both of you survive.’ I think it has been great for her to just stay in touch with people who love her [at UNC].”
When the Eskelunds moved into their home, Kristi planted an ornamental cherry tree in the pollinator garden next to the solar-powered shed and raised vegetable beds. On Jan. 10 – the shared birthdate – the family scattered Anneka’s ashes.
“We’ve carried them around all these years because there was no good place to lay her to rest when we were moving,” Kristi says. “But we’re doing that this year. She will be part of the pollinator garden, and we will all be part of that here, so it really is like coming home for us. It really is. She’s 21 this year, so it’s time. That will be the memorial. Every year, pale pink blossoms will scatter in the wind, and it’s going to be beautiful.”