Pauline Wright ‘Walked the Walk’

By Sandy Semans Ross

Pauline Wright died on Sept. 3, 2011 at the age of 93, but her dedication to her community will continue for countless generations to come, thanks to a bequest left in the care of the Outer Banks Community Foundation.

“Mrs. Wright loved life, art, music and had a compassion for people — especially children,” said attorney John Gaw, who provided legal representation to Mrs. Wright when she was alive and became the trustee of her estate. “She had a profound awareness of her value system and walked the walk. She lived what she believed in.”

As part of her estate plans, Mrs. Wright left a house in Southern Shores to her revocable trust, which sold the property, made a few specific bequests to a few specific individuals, and donated the remaining proceeds to the Community Foundation, for charitable purposes selected by Mrs. Wright.

“She did a good job focusing on what she wanted to achieve,” said Mr. Gaw. “She was smart and had a mind of her own and could quickly get to the crux of an issue.”

Her total bequest to the Community Foundation will total about $500,000. It will be the third largest bequest in the Community Foundation’s history. The Community Foundation will hold her bequest in five separate charitable endowment funds that will be invested in perpetuity.

Mr. Gaw said that Mrs. Wright loved the arts and felt that they add to the community’s quality of life. “She felt that support of the arts was important and that the arts are especially important in schools, where they might ignite an undiscovered talent. She collected local art, listened to music from plays, jazz, opera, and was a prolific reader.”

One of the five new funds set up at the Community Foundation is the Pauline Wright Endowment of the Dare County Arts Council. The money will be used to support the Art Council’s operations and art programs in Dare County.

“This extraordinary gift gives the Dare County Arts Council a unique opportunity to plan stable, long-term arts initiatives that reach several underserved populations, including young artists with developmental disabilities,” said Kip Tabb, President of the Arts Council. “We are humbled by Ms. Wright’s generosity.”

Mrs. Wright’s love of reading was translated into a perpetual endowment for the Currituck County Public Library Foundation for the benefit of Currituck’s public libraries.

Vicky Hagemeister, Currituck librarian, said that discussions are just beginning about how best to use the gift. “One of the ideas is to hold a reading contest for third graders in all the Currituck County schools. If children are to become good readers, they must be reading at grade level by the third grade. We could give the winner of the contest $100 and, of course, we would keep Mrs. Wright’s name alive by naming the contest after her,” said Ms. Hagemeister.

Mrs. Wright was also an animal lover and enjoyed the company of her beloved Sheltie, Daco. “She wanted a fund that could not be used to pay to euthanize animals, but, instead would help make sure that homes were found for them and that their medical needs were met,” said Mr. Gaw.

The Pauline Wright Endowment for the Currituck Animal Shelter will be a permanent endowment for the primary animal shelter of Currituck County that has, as its mission, the rescue, humane care, treatment, and adoption of stray and/or homeless pets. Currently, the Animal Lovers Assistance League operates the shelter, so the fund will provide the League with financial support for food, shelter, medical care, adoption programs, education programs, and spay/neuter programs for stray and/or homeless animals.

“We are very grateful for her gift,” said Ginger Sikes, the shelter director. “We have three funds that could use the additional money. The first is the one used to pay for spaying and neutering; the second is to pay for heartworm prevention and treatment; and the third is for emergency vet care.

“Recently, a puppy was brought in that needed medical help,” said Ms. Sikes. “Someone had poured some type of acid on its back, and the acid had eaten all the way down to the bone. The puppy received emergency medical treatment from a veterinarian … It is now full of life and is waiting for someone to adopt it.”

The Pauline Wright Endowment for Dare County Individuals with Special Needs, and the Pauline Wright Endowment for Educational and Developmental Needs in Currituck, are the last two endowments created by the bequest. These will be field-of-interest funds that will be available for programs benefiting those with special needs.

“Pauline had concerns about children with special needs,” said Mr. Gaw. “She knew that they needed help in developing areas such as social skills in their formative years. The programs needed to address issues that are lacking in schools, and so she wanted to help fund such programs.

“She had seen young people with special needs working in grocery stores and saw that they did a good job. She felt that was good for them and good for the community.”

The Community Foundation will use these two funds targeting the respective counties to award annual grants on a competitive basis to nonprofits for educational, cultural, social, and developmental programs for individuals with Down syndrome and/other similar special educational and/or developmental needs. Priority emphasis will be given to programs in schools, programs benefitting children, and/or job-training and life skills programs. Grant awards will be available to any qualifying 501c3 charity or government agency. Grant proposals for this fund will be due on the first Friday of May each year, with awards announced on the first Thursday of June.

“When we were setting up the bequest, we looked at several groups and felt that the Community Foundation was the best choice to meet her wishes and needs,” said Mr. Gaw. “I’ve always been impressed by how the Community Foundation handles such funds, and she was very comfortable with the choice.”

Now in its fourth decade of philanthropy, the Outer Banks Community Foundation is a public charity that connects people who care with causes that matter. The Community Foundation manages 125 charitable funds for individuals and agencies, makes charitable grants, administers over 40 scholarship programs, and provides tailored services to help individuals, families, and businesses pursue their charitable goals. Since its founding in 1982, the Community Foundation has awarded over $5 million in grants and scholarships to local nonprofits and students across the Outer Banks.

Donations to any of the Pauline Wright Endowments may be mailed to the Outer Banks Community Foundation, 13 Skyline Road, Southern Shores, NC 27949, or can be made online at www.obcf.org. For more information about the Pauline Wright Endowments, or how to establish any type of charitable fund of your own, call 252-261-8839.

New Memorial Fund for David Aycock Loy to Make Charitable Grants

By Sandy Semans Ross

David Aycock Loy left this life with just one request — to be remembered.

In fact, his family has remembered him every day. And now, some 25 years after his passing, his family has established a permanent charitable endowment to ensure that David’s name and story will continue to be remembered, for generations to come.

Working with the Outer Banks Community Foundation, Neil Loy and Gloria Perry of Kill Devil Hills have created the David Aycock Loy Memorial Fund, a field-of-interest grant-making fund that will award grants to nonprofits to support families with children with hemophilia, autism, or other developmental disabilities. The fund will make its first grants in 2014.

The son of Nancy Aycock and Neil Loy, David passed away in 1987 at the age of 18 from complications arising from hemophilia.

“He loved sports,” said his father, Neil. “He would have liked to have been much more physical and to have lived an active life.”

David was enterprising, working as a sales representative for sunglasses and wetsuits, and as a manager of a water sports business. When he wasn’t working, he could be found at the beach at Clark Street, where the beach access pavilion was later built by his brothers and dedicated to his memory.

He aspired to be a kicker for the Washington Redskins and loved throwing the football, even though he could not play on a team. Adventurous, David did not let his illness keep him from boogie boarding or riding his moped. Ever the charmer, David convinced his grandmother — who was in her 80s — to ride on it with him; she loved telling the story.

But due to the hemophilia, David had less than 1 percent clotting ability compared to healthy individuals.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1 in 5,000 males nationally is born with hemophilia each year. The disease is a recessive disorder linked to the X chromosome; thus, it occurs almost exclusively in males. Females can suffer the disease, but because they have two X chromosomes, the incidence is extremely rare because both chromosomes would have to carry the disorder.

“Once David realized that he wasn’t going to be active, he finally figured out he would have to use his brain instead of his body,” said David’s stepmother, Gloria.

He attended Kitty Hawk Elementary School and then Manteo High School, where he received his diploma. “He knew he needed a good education, and he was a good student,” said Gloria.

“When he became so ill and knew he was terminal, and when the doctors gave him just a year to live — though he lived longer than that — his only fear was that when he died, he would be forgotten,” said Neil.

When David died in 1987, the couple began planning for a memorial fund so that his name would live on and so that his life might benefit others.

“We don’t have unlimited income, so we planned for years to include a bequest in our will to set up the fund,” said Gloria.

“But then we decided we wanted to do something before we passed,” said Neil. “We had some money that we could use to set up a small fund now. And we asked our children that in the future, instead of buying us gifts, they contribute what they would have spent into the fund, even if it is just twenty-five dollars.”

The fund is now a reality and is one of the newest funds at the Outer Banks Community Foundation. Beginning in 2014, grants from the David Aycock Loy Memorial Fund will be available to nonprofit organizations that support families with children with hemophilia, autism, or other developmental disabilities.

The couple’s interest in autism was sparked by a grandchild who is autistic. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 80 children in the US is diagnosed with some form or severity of autism. North Carolina has one of the highest rates in the nation, with a diagnosis rate of 1 in 70.

By starting the fund at the Outer Banks Community Foundation in his name, the Loys have ensured that David Aycock Loy will be remembered by both current and future generations.

In addition to the gift they made this year to establish the fund, a portion of the Loys’ estate also will go to the fund when they pass away. With that planned gift, the Loys have joined the ranks of the David Stick Legacy Society, a group of donors who have selected the Community Foundation for a planned or deferred gift.

The Outer Banks Community Foundation was organized in 1982 as a public charity to meet local needs in the Outer Banks area not ordinarily within the province of other charitable organizations, religious institutions, or government.

Funds set up through the organization are used to meet a wide array of community needs, ranging from scholarships to the performing arts, from historical preservation to environmental causes. Grants are awarded quarterly on a competitive basis through a competitive application process.

Donations to the David Aycock Loy Memorial Fund may be mailed to the Outer Banks Community Foundation, 13 Skyline Road, Southern Shores, NC 27949, or can be made online at www.obcf.org. For more information about the David Aycock Loy Memorial Fund, or how to establish any type of charitable fund, call 252-261-8839.

Artist Leaves Legacy of Culture, Art

By Sandy Semans Ross

Local artist Dorothy Luedemann left a legacy of artwork after her death: sculptures, map prints, paintings, and more. But her greatest legacy might be the two bequests that she gave to the Outer Banks Community Foundation — one to provide scholarships for arts students, and the other to provide grants to nonprofits for art-related projects.

On Friday, November 1, local high school students will benefit. Thanks to a grant from the Charles H. & Dorothy S. Luedemann Arts Fund, the Outer Banks Forum for the Lively Arts will provide master classes in singing for dozens of chorus members and music students from First Flight, Manteo, and Cape Hatteras schools.
The classes will be taught by the Grammy-winning, all-male singing group Chanticleer. Though known widely for its interpretation of Renaissance music, Chanticleer sings a variety of genres, including jazz and pop music. Chanticleer will also perform for the general public on Saturday, November 2 as part of the Forum’s regular concert series.

San Francisco-based Chanticleer has won three Grammy Awards, and was named Musical America’s 2008 Ensemble of the Year. In 2008, it became the first vocal ensemble to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. The group also has more than two dozen recordings.

During the master class, Chanticleer singers will not only perform for local students but also listen to the students perform, and critique and instruct them.

The seeds of generosity that has made the master classes possible were planted more than 50 years ago.

Eddie Greene, one of the Community Foundation founders, remembers when he first met Mr. and Mrs. Luedemann.

“I had been in the Lost Colony in previous summers but, because I had joined the actors’ union, I couldn’t perform for them any more. I loved Manteo and came down that summer anyway. I rented a small house that is now part of the Island Gallery and Christmas Shop, and that summer I used the living room as an art gallery.

“Dorothy and Charlie walked in one day in 1962 and were surprised at the atmosphere and at hearing the classical music I always played on the phonograph,” said Greene. “They were real characters and stopped by whenever they were in the area.”

Eventually, both Greene and the Luedemanns became permanent Dare County residents.

“Charlie started an insulation business, and she opened a studio and gallery near the Wright Memorial Bridge,” said Greene.

According to several stories printed in the Coastland Times, Mrs. Luedemann frequently participated in area art shows and encouraged children to become involved in the arts.

Preceded in death by her husband, Mrs. Luedemann died in 1996. Her will directed that her household contents and art collection be sold and the money be deposited with the Community Foundation to set up the two charitable endowments. The total bequest to the Community Foundation was just over $357,000.

In 1998, Ernest White was one of the first to receive a scholarship from the new Charles H. & Dorothy S. Luedemann Scholarship Fund.

“That scholarship played an important role in my life,” said White, owner of VA Displays in Smithfield, Virginia. “It not only helped me financially with the cost of college; it also indicated that someone believed in me, and it forced me to keep up my grade point average so that I could continue renewing each semester.”

The scholarship was renewable only as long as White’s grades didn’t fall below 3.0. He graduated magna cum laude from the North Carolina State University School of Design with two degrees — one in industrial design, and a second in art and design.

Four and half years before receiving his college diplomas, White dropped out of high school. He enrolled in the GED program at the College of the Albemarle’s Dare Campus. “When I finished the GED, I had enjoyed the experience so much that I enrolled in classes. I graduated with an associate’s degree in art and then transferred to the School of Design.” He received $1,000 in Luedemann scholarships each year that he attended COA, and $2,000 for each of the two years that he attended the NCSU School of Design.

Recently, he paid off his student loans and that event, he said, sparked a conversation with himself about how he might help others achieve success. “Because of the scholarship, the amount I had to pay back in loans was lower. My wife, JoAnn, is an accountant, and we are still paying off her student loans,” he said.

“I have a career that I enjoy and can do at home. And there is a bonus because my 10-month-old daughter, Annabelle, keeps me company while I work, so I get to spend a lot of time with her.

“I’ve been blessed,” said White.

A more recent college graduate also expresses appreciation for the help that he received through the Luedemann scholarship program.

Manteo resident Israel Southern graduated from Manteo High School in 2008 and received his first scholarship from the Luedemann fund. “The following year, when I was to reapply for the scholarship, my grandmother suffered a severe stroke, and my schedule was altered to the point that I did not get to reapply for my sophomore year at East Carolina University. However, I reapplied and received the scholarships in both my junior and senior years at ECU. Those wonderful scholarships helped me to purchase all the art supplies I needed for my art classes while I was working on my bachelor of fine arts degree in photography.

“Paint brushes, canvas, photo paper, film, paper, pencils, pens — I could go on and on with a list of things that I was able to buy for my classes. This helped me so much in achieving my goal of graduating on time. I was truly blessed with these wonderful supplies, many of which I still have to this day. It made a difference in my life, and I am ever so grateful!”

More than 15 years after her death, Mrs. Luedemann has helped more than 63 local students seek a higher education in arts — $157,000 in scholarships to date. Her bequest has restored musical instruments, purchased costumes and stage equipment, and sponsored theatrical, dance, and musical performances, in partnership with over a dozen local groups, including the Lost Colony, Elizabeth R & Company, the Dare County Arts Council, and the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island — in total more than $184,000 in arts grants.

Because Mrs. Luedemann’s bequest remains invested as endowment, only five percent of the fund is awarded in any given year. The remaining principal and earnings are reinvested each year so that the funds can make grants and scholarships forever. Mrs. Luedemann’s $357,000 gift has awarded over $341,000 in grants and scholarships, and remains growing with a current balance of $503,000.

Now and forever, Mrs. Luedemann’s bequest is weaving arts and culture into the fabric of the Outer Banks.

Now in its third decade year of philanthropy, the Outer Banks Community Foundation is a public charity that connects people who care with causes that matter. The Community Foundation manages over 110 charitable funds for individuals and agencies, awards charitable grants to local nonprofits, administers more than 40 scholarship funds, and provides tailored services to help individual donors and their families pursue their charitable interests. Since its inception in 1982, the Community Foundation has awarded more than $3 million in grants to Outer Banks charities, and $1 million in scholarships.

Donations to the Luedemann Funds may be mailed to 13 Skyline Road, Southern Shores, NC 27949. For more information, call 252-261-8839.

SAGA Construction and Outer Banks Community Foundation Announce New Charitable Endowment

SAGA Construction, Inc. and the Outer Banks Community Foundation are delighted to announce a new charitable endowment fund that will make grants to nonprofits to promote and improve quality of life and health across the Outer Banks.

The SAGA Endowment Fund (SEF) will serve the Outer Banks community by identifying and supporting causes that are not currently being adequately met, or causes that currently do not exist, by writing seed grants to area nonprofits and helping to bring awareness to the greater community.

“It is our intent to build a long-lasting relationship with the Outer Banks community as this is our home,” said Amit Gupta, President of SAGA Construction, Inc. “We believe that helping to make the Outer Banks a better place is not only our obligation but also our just duty. The community has been good to us and given us an opportunity to grow. Giving back is a family tradition that will give each of us great satisfaction as our family matures here.”

“The Outer Banks Community Foundation is thrilled to partner with the Gupta family to facilitate their company’s philanthropy,” said Lorelei Costa, Executive Director of the Community Foundation. “The Community Foundation’s purpose is simply to enable — enable giving, enable nonprofits, enable good. In creating this endowment fund, SAGA has established a permanent source of grant funding for our community — for good, for ever.”

“As a new mother and a dedicated resident of OBX for many years, I am so proud to be able to expand the friendships I have developed and help reach out to the broader community by building a healthier and stronger base to enhance education and well-being options for the growing population,” said Shweta Gupta, Advisor to the SEF.

As a “donor-advised fund,” the SEF will award grants as recommended by the fund’s advisors. All grants are then approved by the Board of the Community Foundation, ensuring that all recipients are qualified charities, in accordance with IRS rules.

“We are a young company with just under 10 years of construction and land development experience, but we have quickly realized the great benefits of philanthropic activities to both the growth of our community and personal satisfaction,” said Sumit Gupta, CEO of SAGA Construction, Inc. “We are deeply moved by the close knitted character of our community. We look at this new relationship as a natural extension of our business model in teaming up with the Community Foundation now and in the future.”

Now in its third decade of philanthropy, the Outer Banks Community Foundation is a public charity that connects people who care with causes that matter. The Community Foundation manages 115 charitable funds for individuals and agencies, makes charitable grants, administers over 40 scholarship programs, and provides tailored services to help individuals, families, and businesses pursue their charitable goals. Since its founding in 1982, the Community Foundation has awarded over $4 million in grants and $1.3 million in scholarships to local nonprofits and students across the Outer Banks.

Golfing for Grants: Kelly Family Knows the Art of Giving

By Sandy Semans Ross

Some folks get testy or cling to their wallets if a charitable gift is suggested. Nags Head businessman Mike Kelly just brushes off his golf clubs.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Kelly Hospitality Group Charity Golf Tournament, the fundraiser that supports the Kelly Family Fund, part of the Outer Banks Community Foundation. Scheduled this year for Monday, October 21 at Nags Head Golf Links, all proceeds from the golf tournament are donated to the charitable fund.

The Outer Banks Community Foundation manages more than 100 charitable funds for various families, businesses, and organizations across the Outer Banks, and the Kelly Family Fund, established in 1994, was its first donor-advised fund. While some Community Foundation donors set general criteria for their funds and ask the Community Foundation to select grant recipients, the Kelly family makes their own recommendations about where and how their charitable donations are handled.

Kelly held his inaugural golf tournament in October 1993. “When we reached $50,000 in the fund in 1997, we began to give grants,” said Kelly.

The first grants were to the Dare County Youth Center, the Dare County Arts Council, and the Friends of Jockey’s Ridge. Since that time, the Kelly Family Fund has awarded grants to a broad spectrum of nonprofits, ranging from the Boy Scouts and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, to the Dare Education Foundation and the Community Care Clinic.

“I was involved with the Community Foundation and learned a lot about the needs in Dare County,” said Kelly. “The idea sort of got planted in my head, and I wanted to create something so that the money stays in this area. As the county began to grow and prosper, outside charities began to fundraise here and then take the money out of the area.”

In addition to Mike, fund advisors include his wife Willo, his daughters Juliane Kelly of New York City and Elizabeth Reilly of Nags Head, and Elizabeth’s husband Ben.

Since its first tee-off in 1993, the golf tournament has raised more than $300,000 for the Kelly Family Fund. In turn the fund has already distributed $200,000 in grants — usually ranging in amounts from $500 to $5,000. Only a portion of the fund balance is awarded each year; the Community Foundation invests the principal of the fund for growth so that the fund can make grants into perpetuity.

Mike Kelly said that it is rewarding to help the area’s many nonprofits.

“In the beginning, our grant to a nonprofit may be giving it life and, later on, help it continue to grow.

“Working with the fund has kept my daughters involved in the community and aware of needs. You begin to tune in and pay more attention. For instance, I was at a Nags Head meeting one time when Gail Leonard gave a presentation about Room at the Inn and asked for a donation of $500. I had never heard of it and, following the meeting, I visited with her about it and I told her how to make a request from our fund. Since then, we have given to them annually.”

He also hears more about the needs of the community at Rotary Club meetings. “We’ve also begun to ask more questions about the best way to help nonprofit organizations.”

“The Outer Banks Community Foundation has done a great job managing our money for a nominal fee and providing the accounting we need,” said Kelly.

Kelly said that anyone can help fill the needs of the community. “Those who want to give don’t have to pull it out of their own pocket,” he said. “They can just come up with an idea for a fundraising event.”

But for those who do want to give, or at least play some golf on October 21, it’s not too late to sign up to play or sponsor the event. Teams and individual players can sign up online at www.kellysrestaurant.com (follow the link on the right for the golf tournament).

This year’s early sponsors include Atlantic Sewage OBX, Ben Franklin, Coastal Impressions, Midgett Insurance Agency, Nags Head Inn, Outer Banks Chevrolet Buick, Outer Banks Hospital, Sunny Day, and Sysco Foods. There are plenty of sponsorship opportunities still available; call Becky Miller for details at 252-256-2007.

For more information about donor-advised funds or other charitable giving options, call the Outer Banks Community Foundation at 252-261-8839.

Mystery Donor Bequeathed Largest Gift in Foundation History

Milton A. Jewell, beloved grandfather to Ruth Jewell Medgyes, was an inspiration for her $1.6 million bequest to the Community Foundation. Ruth instructed the Community Foundation to use a portion of her gift for scholarships for Dare County students.

(updated in 2022) In May 2003, the Outer Banks Community Foundation received its largest donation ever — $1.6 million bequeathed to the organization via the will of a local woman, Ruth Jewell Kennedy Medgyes. The Community Foundation invested Ms. Medgyes’s extraordinary bequest into three separate permanent endowment funds for long-term growth and philanthropy.

While the principal of these endowment funds continues to grow, the earnings have already benefited the Outer Banks tremendously. The Milton A. Jewell Grant Fund has awarded $524,000 to organizations as diverse as the Lost Colony, the Outer Banks SPCA, Gentle Expert Memory Care (G.E.M.), and Hatteras Island Meals. The Milton A. Jewell Scholarship Fund has awarded $500,000 in scholarships, helping more than 100 local students attend college. In addition, a portion of Ms. Medgyes’s gift was used to establish an operating endowment for the Community Foundation.

Yet at the time of this wonderful gift, Ruth was unknown completely to the Community Foundation’s staff or board of directors.

After moving to the Outer Banks, Ruth led a frugal life. She had contact with some neighbors and a few others, but did not socialize much beyond that. Friends described her as a petite, unassuming, pleasant woman.

Ruth called on Jim Wood, a local bank trust officer, to help her invest and manage the money that she had saved for retirement. On one particular day, while working together to protect and stretch her dollars, Ruth informed Jim that she had inherited a large amount of money. She said that she would never be able to spend it all, so she wanted to give it away and she needed his help.

Wood was tasked with finding worthy organizations and individuals who needed financial help. Over the next few years, according to research done by the late David Stick, Wood said that $350,000 to $400,000 of the inheritance was donated by Ruth to various causes and individuals. She wanted no one to know of her inheritance or that she was the source of these monetary gifts.

Among the recipients were Outer Banks Hotline, the Outer Banks Community Foundation, the Kitty Hawk Police Department, and various individuals (such as a young woman who had to quit college so she could work to support herself and child following a divorce). According to Wood, the anonymous checks made it possible for the young woman to finish her education. A restaurant employee who fell on bad times was given several thousand dollars to help him get back on his feet. And there was the check for $25,000 to a hospital to pay a bill for a friend who could have never paid the debt.

Before her death in January 1997, Ruth wrote her will and in it, instructed that the Ruth K. Medgyes Charitable Remainder Unitrust be set up with certain assets of her estate. Initially, the trust provided for the care of a longtime friend until her death. When the friend died, 10 percent of the remaining funds were to go to Outer Banks Hotline and the remaining 90 percent to the Community Foundation to manage, invest and do mostly what it chose to do, as long as a portion of it provided college scholarships for Dare County students. The new Community Foundation fund was to be named after her grandfather, Milton A. Jewell.

In 2005, Stick attempted to write a biography of the donor based on information gleaned from those who knew her during the 20-odd years that she resided in Southern Shores. But Ruth was a private woman who shared little of her life story, leaving much to the imagination.

Using Stick’s work as a starting point and doing additional research, more is now known about the quiet philanthropist. As more facts have emerged, the picture has changed from the frugal woman who lived a modest, low-income life, to a picture of a person who — at least at times in her life — probably enjoyed a certain amount of privilege and class.

Ruth Jewell Kennedy, born in 1909 in Portland, Maine to Frederick and Marian (aka Marion) Kennedy, was named after an older sister who died within a few days of birth in 1907.

The 1910 US Census records indicate that infant Ruth, her parents and a maid lived together in Portland, but the 1920 Census placed the small family in the home of the grandparents — Milton and Hannah Jewell — who also had a live-in maid.

Ruth attended schools in Portland and graduated from high school in 1927. Before entering Vassar College that fall, she visited Paris, perhaps as a graduation present.

Coincidently, that same year, artist and designer Ladislas Medgyes — the man destined to become her husband 25 years later — was operating a theater set design school in Paris. Later that fall, he was a lecturer at Vassar where she was then a freshman. The records don’t reveal whether Ruth and Medgyes met on either of those occasions.

Graduating from the prestigious women’s college in 1930, Ruth then enrolled in Columbia University where she earned a degree in library science.

The 1930 Census lists her mother as living with the grandparents, but Ruth and her father were no longer in the household. Some records indicate that Frederick Kennedy died about a decade later in California.

Her life remains a mystery after her graduation from Columbia, until 1940, when the federal census listed her as divorced and living in a hotel for women in New York City. Single women often lived in such accommodations at that time due to financial constraints brought on by the Great Depression.

According to her obituary, she performed editorial work for the American Institute of Banking, probably in the 1940s.

Her obituary also stated that she was the manager of the Pierce-Collier Travel Agency in New York City. The agency formed in 1950, and passenger records show that Ruth took a cruise in August of that same year. Travel agents frequently received deeply discounted rates in exchange for promoting specific passenger liners.

According to Stick’s report, Ruth said that she met Medgyes on a cruise in 1951 and that it was ‘love at first sight.’ By the time they reached port, they were engaged, but she said that he died on their wedding night. “I was robbed,” she is quoted as saying about the man she described as the love of her life.

Her late husband’s life also seems hidden in the shadows. Records indicate that after he arrived in the United States in 1927, Medgyes began calling New York City home. With the economic downturn in Europe and given the fact he was a Hungarian Jew, Medgyes might have felt safer in the US than in his homeland or elsewhere in Europe.

At the age of 49, in 1942, Medgyes registered for the US military draft. Four years later, he was registered for naturalization. As a contact person who would always know where he was, he listed the famous cosmetics mogul Helena Rubenstein.

Although his professional background was theater set design, he also was an artist and designed acrylic furniture for Rubenstein. His life via public records is sketchy but one critic of his work described him as being one of the happiest and most out-going people he had ever known.

Jewelry designer Gail Kowalski told Stick in an interview that Ruth had once asked for her help in selling a ring that was from the Russian Crown Jewels. Kowalski directed her to an appropriate auction house; the question of how Ruth came to own the ring is still unknown.

But while there is still an air of mystery surrounding Ruth’s life, one thing is undeniably true — she was a generous, caring person who both during and after her life helped many with both their burdens and their dreams.

Her bequest gift to the Outer Banks Community Foundation was certainly transformational; it grew the organization’s endowment by 30%. Those investments have resulted in more than one million in grants and scholarships to date, more than $100,000 in awards currently, and growing. The Medgyes gift will continue to grow, even as the sizes of annual awards increases. This is true of every bequest gift, because it is the story of the endowment. If you love the Outer Banks, and if you want to share some of the love you’ve been given during your time here, a bequest gift is one gift you can afford to make. Talk to your financial advisor or attorney, and get started today.

 

original article by Sandy Siemens Ross