Larry Stone and wife

Larry and Diane Stone are the grand marshals for the annual Wilkes County Christmas Parade on Saturday in Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro.

It would be hard to find bigger fans of Wilkes County than Larry and Diane Adams Stone, grand marshals for this Saturday’s Wilkes County Christmas Parade in North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro.

The Stones were born about six days apart at Wilkes General Hospital and both graduated from Wilkes Central High School in 1969.

They and their sons, Larry Stone Jr. and Chris Stone, lived in Raleigh when Stone managed the Lowe’s Companies Inc. store in Cary, but returned to Wilkes when he became manager of the Lowe’s store on Cherry Street, North Wilkesboro in 1983.

A little over 20 years ago, Larry and Diane Stone considered moving to Mooresville when Lowe’s was moving its corporate headquarters there from Wilkesboro. Lowe’s was buying homes of its executives in Wilkes to help them relocate to Mooresville and Stone was in the midst of his five-year stint as Lowe’s president and chief operating officer.

“We drove down there one day, but we didn’t like the congestion,” said Mrs. Stone when they were interviewed Friday. The couple stayed in Wilkes and Stone retired from Lowe’s in 2011.

They live just south of Wilkesboro, where Mrs. Stone manages about 50 head of beef cattle and five miniature donkeys. Stone serves on the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees; on the boards of Novant Health, Dick’s Sporting Goods and At Home Décor Stores, and in other leadership capacities; plus he plays a lot of golf.

Stone, known for working to keep as much of a Lowe’s presence in Wilkes as possible, said the headquarters move was unavoidable as the company grew. He said it was done primarily to position Lowe’s closer to Charlotte to secure the corporate labor force needed and another objective was allowing people to commute from Wilkes. Stone made this commute for 10 years.

He played a key role in securing Lowe’s support of nonprofit endeavors in Wilkes for many years, including as chairman of the Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation for over 12 years.

Through Stone’s leadership, Lowe’s sold its old store facilities on Cherry Street to the Wilkes County Schools for use as the school’s system’s administrative building and to house the Stone Family Center for Performing Arts. After one payment, the remaining debt was forgiven. Later, he helped secure and fund renovations of a former warehouse behind the former Lowe’s store as the leased home of the Friends of the Wilkes County Library’s monthly used book sales.

School, other charitable support

About 75% of the charitable support provided by the Stone Foundation, established in 201l and overseen by the Stones and their sons, goes to educational causes.

The foundation also supports the Health Foundation, Samaritan’s Purse, Samaritan Kitchen, Wilkes Family YMCA, Wilkes Heritage Museum, Yadkin River Greenway Council, Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission, United Way of Wilkes, Wilkes Community College, Wilkes Regional Medical Center and many other causes. The Stones fund scholarships for four graduating Wilkes seniors each year.

Stone has a goal of seeing that every Wilkes youth has the opportunity to receive a free two-year education from WCC. He said obstacles like child care or transportation are hard to address, “but if half of the kids just need tuition payments to get a two-year education, we can probably solve that and make this a reality.”

Through the foundation, the Stones created the Wilkes Wishing Well to enhance education in Wilkes schools, one school at a time. It started with $200,000 for projects in nine schools last year. The second round of projects funded will be announced this month. Input is received from Superintendent Mark Byrd and Stone relatives who are educators before the couple and their two sons decide what to fund from among projects submitted.

Mrs. Stone said some needs identified in Wishing Well proposals are heartbreaking, including a program for students impacted by social and emotional issues at home. Stone said the lack of support and hard situations many Wilkes students have at home is discouraging.

There also have been heartwarming experiences, such as the loving and caring atmosphere at small Boomer-Ferguson Elementary when they went there to announce funds for work on the school media center.

Mrs. Stone said their sons cried when they learned about the move from Raleigh to Wilkes but later realized the advantages of smaller schools. Larry Stone Jr. read the morning announcements at Wilkes Central and at age 16 worked at 3WC radio station in Wilkesboro, which started him on a successful career as a radio executive in Tennessee. Chris Stone, a North Wilkes High graduate, lives in Jefferson with his wife and three sons and is an Appalachian State University history professor.

Mrs. Stone said physical needs at some local schools they toured are unbelievable, including outdated media centers, severely cracked sidewalks and gyms without air conditioning, while other schools look great. Stone said the exterior of the Wilkes schools’ administrative building on Cherry Street is severely in need of being repainted.

He said the county commissioners should have considered these needs when the county property tax rate was lowered by 1 cent. “The need is real and leaving the tax rate intact would have provided funds for repairs.”

Influences

Mrs. Stone likes to say that she picked the man she would marry while they were in the same hospital nursery, but she first really “noticed” Stone in high school on the school bus. “He and his sister were standing up (on the bus) and I could just tell the love he had for her (Diane Stone Swaim)—just smiling, laughing and talking to each other.”

She added, “Larry and I met when we were 14 and started dating when we were 16, so he’s had a big impact on my life. I am my own boss, but I do listen to him. And I do admire him. He’s a wonderful person. He has a good heart and he’s always thinking about how to help other people.”

Mrs. Stone said her mother, the late Bertha Day Adams, also influenced her. “She always worked hard and (taught that) you weren’t better than anyone else and it’s not all about you. That was an important lesson.” Her mother and father, the late Robert B. “Bob” Adams, owned the North Wilkesboro Drive-In theater on N.C. 18 North in Mulberry.

Mrs. Stone said she likes the fact that she and her husband haven’t changed. “We’re just exactly like we used to be, so I think I got that from my mom.”

She said she also was influenced by Stone’s loving family, especially his mother, Irene Stone. “I love his mother. She just accepts everyone into the family.”

Stone said his parents instilled his desire to work hard and do well. Stone’s father was the late Clyde D. Stone, who worked at Carolina Mirror in North Wilkesboro for over 30 years.

“My grandmother on my mother’s side (Mamie Maness) was always a rock,” said Stone. Mrs. Maness’ husband died at an early age and she shared a home with his sister, Clyde (lovingly called “Cookie”). The two sisters-in-law lived on Social Security for many years, were independent and didn’t accept government aid, said Mrs. Stone, adding that they always shared what they had with others. Stone said they taught him “how people can survive and do well without having to be given everything.”

Mrs. Maness was Stone’s “bookkeeper” when he delivered the Journal-Patriot and he said he could talk to her about anything.

Stone’s mother, grandmother and great-aunt shared a home on E Street, North Wilkesboro, after his father died in 1984. The three women never had central air conditioning and heat until Stone had it installed. Stone’s mother is 90 and her mother and sister-in-law both lived into their 90s.

Stone only had part-time jobs before he went to work for Lowe’s in 1969, while attending WCC. He said his 15 years working in Lowe’s stores were invaluable when he started working at the corporate level at Lowe’s.

Stone was Lowe’s president when he accepted a vendor’s invitation to see a new display at a Lowe’s store in Mooresville. He was wearing a red Lowe’s vest while in the store as usual when a customer asked him about merchandise and then inquired if he was new in the store. Stone said he worked in the corporate office and was there to see something. He helped the customer, thanked him for shopping at Lowe’s and was still in the store when the man returned.

“He acted like he was mad and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that you are president of the company.’” Stone asked the man why it mattered and he responded, “A guy like you isn’t supposed to be out here helping customers.” The man was also puzzled by Stone knowing so much about the products.

Stone said he always enjoyed working in the stores and helping customers and added that this was one of many ways he was blessed to have worked for Lowe’s.

Larry and Diane Stone both said they are committed to making a difference in Wilkes County and also that they’re honored to be grand marshals for this year’s Wilkes County Christmas Parade.

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