When we talk about volunteers, we always talk about those that give of themselves – either with time, financially, or both. What is often lost when we talk of volunteers is the stealth nature of their character. They are not serving their community for acknowledgment or accolades. They are not helping others for recognition. And therefore, all too often, go unnoticed.
Today’s recipients of “The Honour of the Longleaf Pine for Distinguished Service” certainly fit the description of helping others, and the characteristic of selflessness. Allow me to introduce you to John and Sara Stewart. Oh we all know them, but it is time we acknowledge them.
“They work very hard for our community,” says Philip McRae. “But they also work very hard at giving the credit to others…never to themselves,” he adds.
Born in the area, John and Sara have touched just about everyone in Scotland County. After moving away briefly in the early 60’s, they returned to Scotland County and began leaving their mark. Educators by trade, John taught agriculture and vocational classes. Teaching others how to better take care of themselves and others. Sara also taught school and later became an instructor in speech therapy.
John later became the county vocational director and was instrumental in a program that involved students helping to build homes for others. Think of it as Habitat before there was Habitat. Helping others to help others. Truly the foundation of a legacy. But their foundation truly extends beyond the world of education.
John has been a long-time member of the Scotland County Historic Properties Commission, serving as its Chair and guiding the development of the Museum of Agriculture and History and the Indian Museum of the Carolinas. He has also served on the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and with the Stewartsville Cemetery Association. John and Sara are also both charter members of the Scotland County Highland Games Committee, with Sara being an original board member. And they are tireless volunteers with the Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church.
Together, John and Sara also published a picture book of the history of Scotland County, partnered on a second book on their family history – “Stewart of Appin.” And worked on a third book with Margaret Calhoun and Matt McCoy that celebrated Scotland County’s history.
Perhaps no program typifies the focus on volunteerism by John and Sara Stewart than their commitment to the Scotland County 4th Grade Heritage study day at the John Blue House and the grounds of the NC Rural Heritage Center. The program shows students what life was like in earlier days, and fits into the North Carolina history program that all 4th graders take part in.
The family matches a Grass Roots Grant they received through the Scotland County Arts Council and arrange for a blacksmith, wood wright, potter, and others to show the skills of earlier settlers. Volunteers guide the students through the John Blue house and the museums. Behind it all stand the Stewarts. And like so many other volunteer efforts, they are joined by their two sons, Alan and John, Jr. Giving, volunteering, moving the community forward – truly a family commitment.
It is this lifelong commitment that compels us to award John and Sara Stewart “The Honour of the Longleaf Pine for Distinguished Service.” As Philip McRae says, “they are all about Scotland County and getting us on the right track. At the end of the day John and Sara stand for two things: doing what is “right” and supporting one another.”
It is also this commitment to the community and their Scottish Heritage that compelled Bill Caudill director of the Scottish Heritage Center, and organizer of the annual Scottish Heritage Weekend at St. Andrews University to award John, Sara, and their sons the 2018 Saltire Award at this year’s event. The Scottish Heritage Weekend will be held from Friday, March 16th through Sunday the 18th. The awards banquet will be held Saturday evening at the Belk Center on the campus. The presentation of the Saltire Award will highlight the evening.
“John and Sara are unsung heroes” says Caudill. “They have always been there for others and that grace and graciousness lives on in their sons. They never get the accolades, so it just seemed right to provide them with the Saltire Award and we invite the community to come out and be part of this celebration of the Stewarts.” The cost of the Saturday night banquet is $30. For questions regarding reservations (or any part of the Heritage Weekend) call 910-277-5236 or email [email protected] indicating Scottish Heritage in the subject line.
The Saltire Award, “The Honour of the Longleaf Pine for Distinguished Service.” John and Sara will dismiss them, say they are not worthy. That others are more deserving. But we all know better. Thank you, John, Sara, and your whole family, for making Scotland County a better place,
Cory Hughes, executive director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, wrote this week’s Focus on Scotland, an effort by community leaders on making Laurinburg/Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.