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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

New Hanover County commissioners appoint new Endowment board member

During Monday’s meeting, the county unanimously approved Mary Lyons Rouse to fill the seat vacated earlier this year by Pat Kusek. There was no discussion, but documents provided by the county showed Rouse faced tough competition, including the former president of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and other members of the business and non-profit community.

Monday’s unanimous vote was blink-and-you-miss it quick, appointing Mary Lyons Rouse to the New Hanover Community Endowment without discussion or objections.

The $1.25 billion Endowment was created by New Hanover County with proceeds from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant. The Endowment has 13 board members: six appointed by Novant, five appointed by the county, and two self-appointed members (a condition added to promote diversity on the board during Attorney General Josh Stein’s review of the sale and Endowment formation).

Late last year, county commissioners appointed Woody White and Pat Kusek, but Kusek resigned shortly afterward leaving another vacancy.

Nine people applied to be appointed, including Rouse.

Rouse works in development for Cape Fear Academy. On her application, responding to an application question about her qualifications, she listed her time serving on the Cape Fear Community College board of trustees for eight years, including time as vice chair. She also spoke about Wilmington's growth.

“I have been living in Wilmington for over 10 years and see the potential of what Wilmington has to offer. It is clear that Wilmington is growing at a rapid rate and that individuals are moving in daily. It is exciting to be part of this growth and to see the potential of the future. It is important to be part of this future by bettering the greater community with this generous endowment and utilizing this gift to improve the lives of all,” she wrote.

In response to a question asking why she wanted to serve on the Endowment board, Rouse wrote, “this opportunity gained interest in realizing the potential of what all could be accomplished to better the greater Wilmington Community where ever individual in New Hanover would have the opportunity to be the main focus and be able to benefit from decisions being made.”

“Working with like minded individuals who would be able to collaborate and work together to overall improve the lives of all individuals is an opportunity to better the citizens of Wilmington and feel proud of decisions that were being made along with opportunities to better our community all while working as a committee is appealing. I see this as an [sic] wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of many. This purchase agreement from the sale of the hospital has set forth the 4 primary pillars of how, with the proper vision and direction, this foundation can fully transform our community which is exciting,” she wrote.

In response to a question about what areas of concern she would like to see addressed by the Endowment, Rouse wrote, “due to the asset purchase of the hospital this community has a future to be transformed and with proper leadership this community will only continue to thrive and transform and as a mother raising children here I would like to be a part of shaping our county’s future for the better.”

Rouse listed Wrightsville Beach Alderman Hank Miller, NCDOT board member Landon Zimmer, and Melissa Blackmon, who also works at Cape Fear Academy, as references.

Other candidates included:

  • Thomas Barber, a retired executive who previously served on the boards of the ILM Airport Authority and The Harrelson Center
  • Jack Barto, the former CEO of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, who helped steer the hospital for 14 years
  • Victoria Dull, former executive director of The Harrelson Center
  • Jennifer Keeling, a mental health provider working for Coastal Horizons who has 20 years of medical and community experience
  • Harry Knight, Chairman of the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority, member of several other public and private boards
  • Jonathan Weiss, who works in investment real estate and volunteers on with several non-profit boards and organizations 
  • Michael Werner a retired executive, founder of SMART recovery, and past president of the American Humanist Association
  • Derrick Anderson, who has served on several community boards and currently runs a popular community affairs show on Facebook; Anderson was the only Black applicant. 

Werner, Dull, and Keeling all also applied last year when the county appointed White and Kusek.
Rouse joins the Endowment board as it searches for a replacement for former Endowment CEO William Buster, who was pushed out earlier this year. The Endowment recently dispersed its first major round of strategic grants at the end of last year; Endowment leadership have said that they hope to shift to a rolling grant process as the organization develops.

Below: Applications from the April 1, 2024 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.