Upholding Close Friend’s Lasting Legacy, Couple Creates Fund To Support Individuals With Disabilities

Mike Norman and Patti Bourexis.

By Maggie McNinch

After meeting in 1976 through a postdoctoral program that spurred their careers in disability education, Mike Norman, Patti Bourexis, and David Rostetter created a lasting friendship that withstood long distances and contributed to their collective success in making a positive impact on the lives of many.

To honor David’s passing last spring, Mike and Patti established the Dr. David Rostetter Memorial Fund for Self-Advocacy and Inclusion with the Outer Banks Community Foundation. This field of interest fund was created in December 2023 to make grants available to organizations that support parents and families of children and youth with disabilities and to promote self-advocacy by young adults with disabilities.

“I think it would be almost impossible to quantify how many childrens’ lives and parents’ lives David has influenced for the better,” Patti said.

David advocated for the rights of children with disabilities by providing expert support to families, schools, state agencies, federal agencies, and public interest organizations. David and Mike worked together on several congressional oversight efforts as well as state and federal court cases involving the provision of special education and related services to children and youth with disabilities and their families. David was also one of the primary people responsible for designing the federal government’s monitoring system of state programs for youth with disabilities.

“David, in my opinion, was the fiercest advocate for individuals with disabilities and their parents, of anybody that I’ve ever known,” Mike said. “He was literally fearless in his approach.”

Inspired by the unwavering spirit of their close friend, Mike and Patti wanted to uphold David’s legacy through their field of interest fund, hoping that it will grow as more people become interested.

Mike and Patti have extensive experience in education and are both Principal Researchers for The Study Group Inc., an educational research firm that focuses on planning programs for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.

“We feel very strongly about parents being totally informed of their rights, allowing them to be knowledgeable advocates for their children,” Patti said. “So, anything we can do to help parents and their children from a very young age all the way up through young adulthood is what we want this fund to do. We feel like that’s a way that we can help the Community Foundation help everyone who lives in this community.”

Mike, David, and Patti worked collaboratively on a variety of projects for over 45 years.

“One of the interesting things about our relationship was that we might go two or three years without seeing each other, but we talked frequently because we were always asking each other for advice about pieces of work that we were doing,” Mike said. “It was just one of those kinds of friendships that even though you didn’t see each other for a long time, when you did it just picked up right where it left off.”

“David was Mike’s best friend for many decades,” Patti echoed. “David called Mike, Mikey, and so David would call and say, ‘Is Mikey around?’ It was just a dear, dear friendship.”

David was legally blind from the age of 12, after a house fire in which their German Shepherd saved the family.

“From a young age, he was doing all of this work with a significant visual impairment,” Patti said. “So, as a person, he really embodied commitment to people with disabilities.”

Even before his expansive and impactful career in education, David made a name for himself in the music industry. As a successful professional musician, David played the bass with a few famous jazz musicians, such as Buddy Rich.

Above all, David was devoted to wife Mary Ellen and his five children. Early in their friendship David and Mike shared the stories, joys, and frustrations of fatherhood.

Patti and Mike’s history with the Outer Banks goes back to when they both individually visited as kids, in the 1950s. They often tell people they have wonderful, similar memories of the Outer Banks — they just made a lot of them separately.

Patti leads the Coastal Humane Society and became familiar with the Community Foundation through grant work. She noted that she was most impressed by the Foundation’s response to a couple of the major storms as well as the pandemic.

“If there’s a community-wide tragedy of any kind or a community need, the Community Foundation just moves instantly and looks at how they best can help,” Patti said. “In some ways, it’s like they’re holding the entire community in their hands.”

Field of interest funds fuel the Outer Banks Community Foundation’s Community Enrichment Grant program. Through this program, the Community Foundation has invested more than $12 million in the Outer Banks over its 42-year history. The Dr. David Rostetter Memorial Fund for Self-Advocacy and Inclusion, a field of interest fund, will contribute to the Foundation’s grants pool for the first time this year (2024).

“It made sense to put his name on it,” Patti said. “He would be very happy, and he would be saying, ‘Patti and Mikey, I really love what you’re doing here.’”

If you are interested in creating a charitable fund, visit https://obcf.org/giving/create-a-fund/ or call the Community Foundation at 252-423-3003. Funds can be created to memorialize loved ones, support a favorite issue or charity, provide scholarships, and more.  Anyone can learn about or donate to any existing fund online at www.obcf.org/donate.