When Stewart Couch passed away, unexpectedly in February 2012, a heartbroken community searched for a way to memorialize this local leader. Within days, the Outer Banks Association of Realtors (OBAR) and the Outer Banks Community Foundation established a scholarship fund in his name to benefit Hatteras students. From across the country, dozens of people contributed to the fund.
Little did they know, Stewart himself had the exact same idea.
Stewart Couch grew up on Hatteras Island and graduated from Cape Hatteras High School in 1968. After earning his business degree from East Carolina University, Stewart came home to Hatteras, purchased a young Hatteras Realty in 1982, and grew that small company into the nationally-known vacation rental business it is today.
Stewart came from a family of community-minded citizens (his father, the late Ray Couch, helped establish the Outer Banks Preservation Association), and Stewart followed that family tradition, serving as president of OBAR and the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, among other positions.
Though devoted to his native Hatteras, Stewart was also a world traveler, and journeyed around the globe to ride the world’s greatest surf breaks. It was in Nicaragua, on one such surf trip with friends, that he passed away so suddenly, leaving behind a daughter, Nikki, two brothers, John and Danny, a large and beloved family, and countless friends and colleagues.
Stewart was known for his generosity, so no one was surprised that his will included bequests to many coworkers and family members. Then one autumn day in 2014, as the complex estate continued to settle, the Outer Banks Community Foundation received a check for $160,000, a bequest from Stewart Couch to be invested as a scholarship endowment to help Hatteras students attend college.
“Mr. Couch’s gift was truly extraordinary,” said Lorelei Costa, the executive director of the Community Foundation. “Combined with the funds raised by OBAR in 2012, the R. Stewart Couch Hatteras Island Scholarship will be our largest one-year scholarship to date — $8,900 this year, which is about the total cost of tuition, fees, and books for a full year at most in-state universities.”
“Because Mr. Couch chose to invest his gift as an endowment, the scholarship fund will continue to grow,” said Lorelei, “even as it awards an annual scholarship each year for generations to come.”
“We gave a lot of thought to the type of student that Stewart would have wanted to support,” said Jackie Ricks-Sample, the executrix of Stewart’s estate. “The selection will be based on community service, academics, work history, extra-curriculars, and financial need most of all.”
“Anyone who knew Stewart would know that he’d want to help an underdog, a diamond in the rough who might have been overlooked by others, but who could really excel if just given an opportunity,” said Jackie.
In addition to the R. Stewart Couch Hatteras Island Scholarship, the Community Foundation manages over 40 other scholarships, including some awards just for Hatteras students (the Inez Daniels Austin and the Scott Day Family Scholarships), as well as other awards open to Ocracoke, Currituck, and/or other Dare County students.
“Some of our scholarships are need-based, like the Stewart Couch award, while others, like our Milton Jewell Scholarship, are strictly merit-based,” explained Costa. “We have special scholarships for art majors, math majors, education majors, firefighters, tennis players, golf players, law enforcement majors, community college students, vocational students, cosmetology students, and more. And some scholarships are open to all the above.”
Graduating seniors can apply for any Community Foundation scholarship at www.obcf.org. Applicants begin the process by completing a short questionnaire, which quickly and easily directs them to the scholarships for which they’re eligible.
From there, students complete one common application, upload one transcript, submit any required essays, and apply for all Community Foundation scholarships for which they are eligible, all in one place. Teachers and community members can provide confidential recommendations online, without having to make multiple copies.
Applications for all scholarships are due on Sunday, March 29. The first R. Stewart Couch Hatteras Island Scholarship will be awarded at Cape Hatteras Secondary School’s Senior Awards Night on Tuesday, June 2.
Though Stewart Couch’s community was left in shock upon his passing in February 2012, many found some solace by giving back to Hatteras for a scholarship in his name. And now we know that that was his exact wish.
For more information about the Community Foundation’s scholarship program, including application instructions and information on leaving a scholarship bequest, please visit www.obcf.org, or call Lorelei Costa at 252-261-8839.