BOONE — A new endowment scholarship honoring a local couple to be given to Watauga High School seniors could potentially “cover virtually all of the cost of a four-year education,” said David Harman.
Harman made the announcement during the Sept. 9 Watauga County Board of Education meeting. He explained that he was a friend to Don and Audrey Bentley, and became a financial advisor for Audrey Bentley and eventual executor of the Bentley estate.
The Don and Audrey Bentley Scholarship was founded with the proceeds from the Bentley estate to honor the legacy of the couple. The scholarship is established through the North Carolina Community Foundation, and aims to support the couple’s “lifelong commitment to the Watauga County community and their passion for education.”
The North Carolina Community Foundation is a statewide community foundation that has administered more than $145 million in grants since 1988 and sustains 1,300 endowments. Endowments are established to provide long-term support of a broad range of community needs, nonprofit organizations institutions and scholarships, the foundation stated.
According to the foundation, Don Bentley was a Watauga County native and lifelong educator. Born in 1935, he attended Blowing Rock School and Appalachian State University, and later earned his Doctorate of Education at Virginia Tech. Don Bentley served as principal of Blowing Rock School, principal of Watauga High School, superintendent of Watauga County Schools and superintendent of the Cherokee County School System.
Don Bentley died in 2005, and Harman said he then became a financial advisor for Audrey Bentley. She started talking with Harman about creating a scholarship. In 2013, Harman started discussing the plans for an endowment scholarship honoring the Bentleys with Megan Ellis, the foundation’s regional director of development of the Northwestern and Western regions of NC.
Audrey Bentley died in March of this year. According to her obituary, she graduated from Blowing Rock High School and attended Appalachian State University. She had retired from Carolina Caribbean, Tweetsie Railroad, Hound Ears Club and Elk River Club, where she had worked as executive assistant to the Robbins family. Audrey was also a licensed North Carolina real estate broker and operated in Cherokee County for several years.
According to Harman, Audrey Bentley at her death bestowed a substantial scholarship gift for the students of WHS in honor of her late husband. The scholarship supports a WHS senior who exhibits academic excellence, leadership, personal effort and good citizenship, according to the foundation. Preference will be given to individuals who want to pursue a major in environmental sciences or education, but Harman said students going into other fields may apply.
“This is the true legacy of Don and Audrey Bentley — encouragement of education and support of young people in Watauga County,” Harman said in a statement.
Students receiving the scholarship would be able to attend any in-state or out-of-state school as long as it’s a higher education institution. Although, Harman said if a scholarship recipient chose a school in the University of North Carolina system, the scholarship could cover costs of a four-year education.
“Audrey wanted this to be life changing,” Harman said. “I think she’s managed to do that.”
When asked how much scholarship money would be given to a recipient, Ellis said she was not at liberty to discuss the finances surrounding the scholarship, but that it will exist in perpetuity.
WCS Superintendent Scott Elliott said Ellis reached out to him in 2014 about the potential scholarship opportunity. He also stated that Don Bentley had a deep commitment to public education that is reflected by the scholarship fund.
“Don’s focus was always on what was best for the young people of the county as he tried to instill a love of learning, coupled with the discipline required to succeed in a competitive world that students face,” Elliott said in a statement.
After talking with board members Gary Childers and Ron Henries, Elliott said it’s possible that Don Bentley was the longest tenured principal at WHS with 15 years in the role.
Recipients of the scholarship will be chosen by a committee that includes Harman as the scholarship administrator, Susan Reed (an instructor in the Sustainable Development department at App State), Tom Pace (a retired professor of App State’s Reich College of Education), Leigh Lyall (a WHS guidance counselor) and Sarah Figlow (the program specialist for the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship at App State). Harman said the committee will meet in October with plans to have applications available in February and a recipient chosen by April.
More information on the scholarship can be found at www.nccommunityfoundation.org.