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Community Connections and Support for Employees Set Mast General Store Apart

Ten years after Mast General Store owners John and Faye Cooper’s son, John Cooper III, died in a car accident in 1989, store employees initiated a scholarship in his memory. Twenty-four years later, the scholarship continues to support store employees and their families in John’s memory.

This year, Mast General Store employees Katelyn Francis of Waynesville and Anna Garner of Hendersonville were awarded the John E. Cooper III Memorial Scholarship, each receiving $2,755 toward their higher education.

Katelyn Francis

Katelyn Francis

Anna Garner

Anna Garner

The scholarship, which is administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation, is one piece of Mast General Store’s legacy of community care and connection. NCCF is proud to be part of that legacy. NCCF handles the administrative side of the scholarship, while the Watauga County affiliate board of advisors is responsible for the selection of the scholarship recipient.

When the Original Mast General Store took root and grew in the late-1800s, it quickly became a vital part of the Valle Crucis community, thanks to its essential and practical offerings. When John and Faye Cooper purchased the business in 1979, they continued to provide products and services that harkened back to a time of quality craftsmanship and neighborly support.

As the family of stores grew to nearly 500 employees, it brought those time-honored values to its 11 locations throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Virginia. Those values are also reflected through the business’s support for local nonprofits, employee-friendly work policies, and scholarships for employees.

Caring about the community

Mast General Store’s community involvement goes far beyond a unique approach to retailing.

John, Faye and Lisa Cooper

John, Faye and Lisa Cooper

“My parents became very involved in the community as soon as they could after reopening the store,” says daughter Lisa Cooper, the current president of Mast General Store, Inc. “Enhancing the lives of your employees and your community came naturally for my parents.”

Here are just a few examples of what the Coopers and the business have done:

  • Spearheaded the initiative to reopen and preserve the Appalachian Theater in Boone.
  • Supported the establishment of the Valle Crucis Community Park and led efforts to add the Valle Crucis Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Donated nearly 22 acres of land to the Blue Ridge Conservancy.
  • Hosted conservation partners in stores on Land Trust Day (the first Saturday in June) and donated 20 percent of the day’s sales.
  • Received numerous honors, including membership in the Watauga County Historical Society Hall of Fame and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.

Caring about employees

Concern for others is a big part of Mast’s culture. For example, employees can donate part of their paid time off to another employee who may have run out of leave due to an extended illness, and about 250 staff are employee-owners through the company retirement plan.

“Taking care of people’s basic needs is important to move toward success,” says Sheri Moretz, storyteller for the company. “If a person is hungry, they won’t be a good employee. If a child is hungry, they can’t learn and grow. The Mast Store contributes to food security organizations in all our communities.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company worked hard to make sure reopening their doors would be safe for employees and customers, Cooper said.

“It was hard to furlough almost 90 percent of our employee team,” she said. “I was proud so many employees returned when we could open our doors again.”

Investing in the next generation

The John E. Cooper III Memorial Scholarship provides support for a Mast General Store employee or employee’s child who wants to attend college. John Cooper was a senior at Western Carolina University when he died. He had been studying political science and criminal justice and had planned to become a highway patrol officer.

“John Cooper III was a people magnet,” says Moretz. “His personality made him popular in high school, and his work ethic made him a successful athlete. He competed as a football player and wrestler and used his physical fitness to serve all of us as a member of the Marine Reserve.”

The 2023 recipients of the scholarship named for him are both employees of the store.

Francis plans to study occupational and physical therapy at Appalachian State University. She graduated from Tuscola High School in Waynesville where she was captain of the cheer team and a two-time, all-American cheerleader. Francis served in student government, was a member of the National Honor Society and volunteered at a local nursing home.

Garner graduated from West Henderson High School in Hendersonville and plans to study marine sciences at North Carolina State University. She served as first vice president of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) where she qualified for a national leadership competition. Garner attended the NC Governor’s School and participated in orchestra, chorus and musical theater at WHHS.

The scholarship has awarded more than $60,000 since it was established at NCCF in 1999.

Courtesy of the North Carolina Community Foundation.