It took some convincing to get Bill and Nancy Stanback to accept the Wilson L. Smith Philanthropic Award.
And even after the couple agreed to be honored by the Novant Health Foundation-Rowan Medical Center they backed out.
“They didn’t think they deserved it,” said Tippie Miller, board director of the foundation. “But in thinking about those who have been so gracious with their funds in our community, Bill and Nancy’s names always come up.”
Miller eventually talked the couple into accepting the award, but they still didn’t want to make a big deal of their charitable gifts.
“Every time I met with them over the next several months the first thing they said was “We don’t deserve this,’” she said. “That’s exactly why they do.”
The couple has quietly donated to organizations such as the foundation, Rowan Helping Ministries, Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, Hood Theological Seminary and the LandTrust for Central North Carolina for decades.
“We feel fortunate to be able to do it,” Nancy said. “The community and the nation need all the help they can get and this is something we believe in.”
The couple’s son, John Hart, said they feel it’s the duty of those who have been fortunate to return something to the community.
“What’s always struck me the most about what they do is they really do not look for any thanks and recognition,” he said. “I marvel at my parents in that their giving is so incredibly selfless.
“They taught me and my siblings a lot about who we wanted to be as we grew up.”
Miller said the Stanback family formed the “footprint for caring for our community,” and Bill and Nancy have continued to follow that path.
“Not only have they donated to the hospital foundation, but so many others,” she said. “They do it so quietly, they don’t do it for fanfare or naming of things, but purely for the betterment of our community.”
But Miller said the Stanbacks haven’t just provided financial support.
“When we need someone who will share their knowledge and experience, Bill has always been there to do that,” she said.
Without contributions from people like the Stanbacks, Miller said the hospital would suffer.
“We could not provide that extra support that is needed within the medical community,” she said. “All of the funds that are contributed through the foundation go directly toward patient care.”
Hart said Salisbury is lucky to have philanthropists like Bill and Nancy who are so dedicated to the community.
“I marvel at how anyone can stay so committed for so long and be so selfless about it,” he said. “It’s just fabulous.”
Jason Walser, executive director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, said the couple have supported a variety of major projects including Spencer Woods, a 40-acre property that was slated to be clear-cut, graded flat and re-planted in pine trees in 2010 before being saved.
“Dunn’s Mountain Park would not have happened without Bill and Nancy Stanback,” he said. “They were the primary funders for that park with a $250,000 gift that was matched by a state grant.”
Walser said the LandTrust itself wouldn’t exist in the form it’s in today without Bill, Nancy and Bill’s cousin, Fred Stanback. At one time, it was set to be based in southern Rowan or Northern Stanly counties.
“They have been supporting us from the beginning,” he said. “They said we’ll contribute, but we think it should be in Salisbury.”
Walser said the pair have shied away from any type of recognition from the LandTrust.
“They’ve certainly done more than their fair share,” he said. “But they’ve never done it for themselves, they’ve always done it for the right reasons.”
Nancy said the couple have always been advocates of land preservation.
“Both of us feel that it’s something that you can’t replace. Once land is gone, it’s gone,” she said. “We don’t want to see all our land developed, we need to save our beautiful spaces.”
Walser said both Bill and Nancy are avid sailors and that Bill also enjoys hiking and identifying birds.
“Environmental stewardship, taking care of animals and nature, was an important part of their upbringing,” he said.
Walser remembers Bill telling him at one point that giving to land conservation has a perpetual reward.
“He said ‘Scholarships come and go, but giving to land protection projects or parks, that’s forever. We know making a one-time contribution makes a difference not only for us, but for the people who come after us,’” he said. “He saw an opportunity to make a permanent difference in the way Salisbury and the region function.”
Humility has guided Bill and Nancy’s giving, Walser said.
“They both believe that they have been given resources for a reason,” he said. “They feel they have a responsibility to use those resources for a purpose, not everybody feels that way.”
Walser said the Stanbacks really are making a difference.
“That is a trite and overused statement, but in their case it is so true,” he said. “They don’t just give money, they give time and leadership.”
Walser said he considers Bill and Nancy personal friends as well as professional supporters.
“They are remarkable, inspiring people,” he said. “One of the things that has really impressed and touched me over the years is that they have done a great job being a voice for people without a voice.”
Walser said that includes the poor, homeless animals and the gay community.
“They get involved in any situation, helping people who might not have a lot of strength and power,” he said.
Bill publicly spoke out against Amendment One last year. A majority of North Carolina voters ended up approving the amendment, which limits marriage to one man and one woman and bans other domestic legal unions.
“If you’re in love and live with somebody, and you want to take care of someone and be taken care of, the idea of being married is a very important thing to some individuals,” he told the Post.
Bill’s daughter, Annie, is a lesbian, who helped successfully legalize gay marriage in Connecticut.
“He’s spoken at county commissioners meeting on the issue of homosexuality when he knew he was going to lose,” Walser said. “He goes to church with me at First United Methodist and he has stood up and challenged our congregation to do things that are not particularly popular.
“He and Nancy are very willing to give their time and when they believe it will make a difference.”
Bill grew up in Salisbury and went to work for the family business, the Stanback Company, after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II.
He met Nancy at a dance in Salisbury one night after she moved here from Richmond, Va. The two already had three children each when they got married
“We ended up with six teenagers, they were like stair step children” Nancy said. “The nicest thing about it is that they have all become very, very good friends.”
The couple have spent their life together traveling the world by sea.
It took them about two years to journey from Maine to Venezuela on a 44-foot sailboat.
“Bill learned to sail as a scout when he was a teenager and he taught me,” Nancy said. “It was so interesting, we met some fabulous people along the way.”
Hart said his mother has never had a hard time making friends.
“My mother has never met a stranger,” he said. “She is the most open, welcoming person and she can talk to anybody.”
Hart said she still stays in touch with a friend she met during a sailing trip 30 years ago at a marina in the Bahamas.
“Their world view is so expansive, they really make room for a lot of people,” he said. “They always seem to make time for new friends and new experiences. I wish I was more like that.”
Although the couple have had some incredible adventures, Hart said they are always happy to come back to Salisbury.
Nancy said that’s because they consider the city such a gem.
“We love it here,” she said. “We’re not those people who want to have a house in Florida in the winter, we’d rather be in Salisbury where we have lots of friends and a lot going on.
“It’s such a pretty place, we sure miss it when we’re not here.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.