When Stewart Couch passed away, unexpectedly in February 2012, a heart-broken 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, a check arrived to the Outer Banks Community Foundation: $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: $8,900.00 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.
Graduating seniors from Cape Hatteras Secondary School can apply for the R. Stewart Couch Hatteras Island Scholarship through the Community Foundation’s website: www.obcf.org/scholarships. The application requires a current transcript, three letters of recommendation, a financial need form, and an essay.
The Community Foundation manages over 45 local scholarships, including several that are exclusively for Hatteras students, such as the Inez Daniels Austin Scholarship, the Scott Day Family Scholarship, and the Greg and Eden Honeycutt Scholarship. Applications for all scholarships, including the Stewart Couch award, are due on Sunday, March 29.
The first R. Stewart Couch Hatteras Island Scholarship will be awarded at 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 information on establishing a scholarship fund or leaving a scholarship bequest, please click here, or call Lorelei Costa at 252-261-8839.