David Stick Appreciation Day

[This blog post come from KaeLi Schurr at the Outer Banks History Center.]

David Stick in Map Room, 1987

David Stick in Map Room, 1987

Today is the birthday of our founding benefactor David Stick. Here at the Outer Banks History Center we call it “David Stick Appreciation Day.”  He would have been 93 this year. I am proud to say I knew the author and historian; not just because he was a fascinating man who could spin a good story, but because he had a vision of what North Carolina could become and spent his life trying to make it a reality. He advocated for better libraries, environmental protection and a host of other causes that raised the standard of living for many people here and across the state. Quite honestly, I’m not sure when he ever found time to sleep.

Stick is probably best known as the author of a dozen books about the Outer Banks. My favorite is Graveyard of the Atlantic published by the University of North Carolina Press. Instead of a dry list of shipwrecks and survivors, it is a gripping series of stories about heroes and victims fighting an angry sea. He collected and used original wreck reports of the United States Life Saving Service and interviewed many local people who witnessed the events. It is a fascinating read and an excellent reference that we use often.

He also formed and worked with many organizations. As head of the first Dare County Tourist Bureau, he helped make the Outer Banks a nationally recognized tourist destination. He worked with his father, Frank Stick, to develop the Town of Southern Shores and then obliged when asked to become its first mayor. He worked to promote the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the historical lost colony to encourage visitation to a once poor area, and once he accomplished that, he strove to establish some sort of environmental controls to prevent over-development from getting too far out of hand.

He held a host of offices and sat on many state-wide boards, but through it all, he had the people of the Outer Banks on his mind. He told me once that he considered being one of the founders of the Outer Banks Community Foundation one of his greatest achievements.  Over four million dollars has been given to deserving organizations and individuals over the last thirty years because he had the vision to see what needed to be done and the drive to go out and do it.

His greatest gift, however, was the donation of his immense personal library to the State of North Carolina in 1987. This collection of books, maps, manuscripts, and photographs gathered over his career, formed the nucleus of the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo. It is available free of charge to anyone who wants to use these incredible historic resources about coastal Carolina. My colleagues and I have the honor of working together at the Outer Banks History Center to preserve and make these materials as accessible to the public as possible. Not a day goes by without someone telling a “David” story, or using the materials he donated to write a book or look up some family history.

A researcher called the other day and wanted to know why Salvo, N. C. was once called “Clarks.”  In the old days, after I’d looked in all the manuscripts and genealogical records, the WPA reports and Lord’s Proprietor’s records, at some point, I knew I could always call David when I was stumped. If he didn’t know the answer, he always seemed to know who did. So far, we’ve determined that there was an oysterman named Clark who lived in the area, but there was also a Governor Clark around the same time, so the search for a definitive answer continues. I’m sure David would have known.

Now we are left to wonder—Who will become the next David Stick? Who will dedicate their time to improving the lives of the people of North Carolina? Who will tell the stories and gather the minutiae of everyday life that will create a historical record for the future? Who will be there to answer the unanswerable questions? We just don’t know. We do know that we were fortunate to know a great man for a short time, and that we miss him.

Today is David Stick’s birthday but we got the gift. Come share it with us any time.

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