The initial seed of the idea was planted over 20 years ago when long-time friends Larry Stone and Phil Stevens were riding around Wilkes County contemplating their lives after retirement from Lowe’s Companies Inc. and what they could do to make a difference in their home community.

The common ground they found was the value of education and their desire to help kids graduating from high school be able to go to college. Stone and Stevens would spend many more hours in meetings talking about what they could do that would be the most impactful in the community.

Stevens went on to establish the Wilkes-Ashe-Watauga (WAW) Endowment, funded largely by an annual golf tournament in Ashe County. Stevens and Stone have been engaged for 20 years in the golf tournament, which led to the WAW Endowment funding numerous scholarships over the years while building a $1.5 million endowment.

Stone also set up the Stone Foundation and has supported many students going to college through it. Both men have supported Wilkes Community College over the last two decades in various capacities.

Fast forward to 2021, and WCC’s recent announcement of establishment of the WCC Education Promise Scholarship, made possible largely through donations of $1.5 million from the WAW Endowment Board and $1.5 million from Diane and Larry Stone of Wilkesboro.

The WCC Education Promise scholarship is a two-year, last-dollar scholarship designed to make college affordable and accessible for every eligible student from Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany counties, regardless of financial status.

“I am so excited to launch this new scholarship program in our service area,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president. “We are beyond grateful and I cannot thank Phil Stevens and the WAW Endowment Board and Diane and Larry Stone enough for their generous donations of $1.5 million each to establish this terrific new scholarship program. This $3 million provides a strong foundation on which to build toward our $8.5 million endowment goal, which will sustain the WCC Education Promise program and open up access to a college education for generations to come. This generous act is also a testament to the future-looking vision and commitment to our community shared by the individuals who made it possible.”

“The support of Diane and Larry Stone has spanned over 30 years with Wilkes Community College,” said Allison Phillips, WCC vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the WCC Foundation. “Their caring regard for our students has been phenomenal. Throughout the years, they have made significant charitable gifts to establish the Diane and Larry Stone Student Services office, the Stone Culinary Center and multiple scholarships. Larry has served on the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees since 2003, serving as vice chairman for 12 of the last 18 years.”

Phillips said that during Stone’s 42-year tenure with Lowe’s, he played a key role in garnering support for local non-profits. He was chairman of the Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation for over 12 years.

Retiring in 2011 as Lowe’s president and chief operating officer, Stone continued his philanthropic work through his foundation, where he serves as president. Established in 2011, the Stone Foundation is overseen by Larry, his wife, Diane, and their sons.

The Stone Foundation provides support to numerous organizations in Wilkes, with a large portion supporting educational causes. “Larry and Diane Stone are committed to making a difference in the lives of residents of Wilkes County and are among the leading philanthropists in the area,” said Phillips.

Stone stated, “For years Diane and I have discussed how we could help our graduating seniors continue their education and help Wilkes County produce leaders in our community. This program will be a great start to ensure that we have people ready to meet the challenges needed by employers and at the same time create new business opportunities.”

Stevens founded the Watauga-Ashe-Wilkes Scholarship Endowment (WAW Endowment) with an initial gift and then supported and grew it by hosting the annual golf tournament. Since 2001, the WAW Endowment, a donor-advised fund managed under the N.C. Community Foundation, has awarded over $500,000 in scholarships to more than 100 graduating seniors in the region.

“The WCC Education Promise aligns beautifully with the vision that has always guided the WAW Endowment,” said Stevens. “It has always been about opening more access to a college education for our local young people.”

The WAW Endowment board voted unanimously to direct the WAW Endowment funds to Wilkes Community College for establishment of the new scholarship. In addition to Stevens as president, the board’s officers are Charles Hartzog, vice president; Kim Forester, secretary; Kim Barnes, treasurer; Daphne Petrey; Michael Lyall; Natalie Willis; Bradley McNeil; Danny Holman; and Cary Rousseau.

The college foundation will officially launch fundraising for the program this month by providing a plan to raise remaining funds to reach $8.5 million to fund it for future generations. For more information about how to support this new initiative, contact Phillips at 336-838-6491.

Go to https://www.wilkescc.edu/promise/ for more details about the WCC Education Promise Scholarship.

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