Esther and Bill Levy (center and right) on a fishing trip with a guide. (Courtesy photo.)

Esther and Bill Levy (center and right) on a fishing trip with a guide. (Courtesy photo.)

Bill and Esther Levy scholarship has helped scores of students afford college

The Bill and Esther Levy Scholarship Fund provides college money for students of Kennett High School in North Conway, which serves eight towns in the Mount Washington Valley. Bill’s stepson, Ron Collins, remembered Bill Levy saying: “I want the kids in the Valley to have a chance. If they have the gumption to go to school, but not the money, I’m going to help them.’

Bill Levy came to the Mount Washington Valley in the mid-1940s with a degree in architecture and a great idea. He would sell kits by mail to build simple furniture. People could send away for all the components to build, say, a sturdy pine stool or a rifle rack and put them together at home.

In that pre-IKEA era, the idea was revolutionary — and it caught on. Yield House became a major employer in the Valley, producing its wares in its local factory, and selling them first through the Carroll Reed catalogue, and then through its own mail-order business and retail showroom in North Conway.

The son of a carpenter from Providence, R.I., Bill Levy served in the Navy during World War II. He earned degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University.

He always put a premium on education.

It was his belief in the power of education that led Bill and his wife, Esther Levy, to create a scholarship fund. The Bill and Esther Levy Scholarship Fund provides college money for students of Kennett High School in North Conway, a regional school serving eight towns in the Mount Washington Valley. The Fund provides not just a one-time infusion of funds, but continuing support during a student’s college education.

Bill’s stepson, Ron Collins, remembered Bill Levy saying: “I want the kids in the Valley to have a chance. If they have the gumption to go to school, but not the money, I’m going to help them.’ And he and mom talked it over and that’s what they decided to do.”

“He was a brilliant man … he had so many interests, and he would just get involved in something, and he could absorb information like crazy,” Collins said.

Levy would become involved in many civic projects in the Valley – helping to spearhead the preservation and restoration of the North Conway train station and the creation of the North Conway Scenic Railroad; serving on the board of Memorial Hospital, buying the North Conway Country Club and then giving it to its members; and acting as a founding member of the Pequawket Foundation, a charitable foundation which serves the Valley.

“He did an awful lot of good for the Valley,” said longtime Levy friend Norman Head.

Ron Collins said that the Valley was very good to his mother and step-father.

“Both of them were North Conway people,” Collins said. “They loved everything about it … they were part of the pioneer group that built North Conway.”

“Mom was a totally people-person. She loved people, she loved parties and she had zillions of friends in North Conway.” And, Collins said, she swept her husband along into her love of social events. “Bill probably could have been just has happy fly-fishing,” Collins remembered, chuckling, “but once he got to a party, he was charming.” (Fly-fishing was a passion of Bill Levy’s — he boasted records set in the Florida Keys that Collins said still stand, and stories endure of his sometime fishing companion, a rangy, short-tempered fellow by the name of Ted Williams. As in the Boston Red Sox’s Ted Williams.)

Esther Levy died in 2000, Bill in 2002. The Levy Scholarship, which is advised by a local committee charged with selecting recipients, has awarded scholarships to 230 students since its inception in 2004.

“He could have left his money to anything,” said Stefi Hastings, whose father, Carroll Reed, was a longtime friend of Bill Levy’s.

“For him to leave it in such a smart way to preserve the principal so it would go on forever to help these local kids,” she said, “is an ongoing gift to generations in the Mount Washington Valley.”