The Conklings embody the spirit of local philanthropy in their donations to students, teachers, extracurricular activities
Dr. Richard and Polly Conkling have been in Flagler County since 1977.
“No grocery, no stop lights, not many roads,” Polly said.
“It’s been such a big change since we first got here,” Richard said.
And since they first got here, they have been involved with the community and its children.
Longtime members of the Flagler/Palm Coast Kiwanis Club, the Conklings have been active members of Flagler’s school system — Polly as a first and second grade teacher at Bunnell Elementary School and Wadsworth Elementary School until 2003 (42 years of teaching)
Richard, known to students as “Dr. C,” as the county’s director of curriculum, then principal of Bunnell Elementary and finally assistant superintendent.
“My first office was the isolation cell in the old jail,” Richard said.
He resigned from that job to become the media specialist at Indian Trails Middle School at a time when the school first got computers, retiring in 2000.
“it was state-of-the-art,” Richard said.
Even outside of their education jobs, the Conklings have remained involved with the Terrific Kids program, going to the assemblies every year, as well as Kiwanis community service groups for kids like the K-Club and Builders Club.
“It gets them involved,” Richard said. “Gets them out of themselves and gives them responsibility for the community.”
So much about school these days revolves around grades, the Conklings said, but Terrific Kids is about character and rewarding students for positive traits.
“We’re interested in helping the young people succeed. So we involve ourselves with everything to do with schools,” said Polly.
Every year until 2018, the Conklings sponsored Flagler County’s Teacher and Employee of the Year celebration, contributing several hundred dollars to the party for educational staffers. For older students in high school, they were involved in sponsoring scholarships, often via fundraisers for the Flagler County Education Foundation. Richard once secured $1.3 million for the foundation by convincing a Kiwanis member to give a sizable donation.
“It seems to me like they’re the start of philanthropy, the start of giving in Flagler County. It really goes back to them.”
— JOE WRIGHT, Quantum Electric owner
In 2016, however, they personally gave out scholarships of a few hundred dollars funded entirely by themselves to a pair of high schoolers, Alicia Smith and Dakota Kershaw.
“The Conklings' scholarship really helped me in my first year of college,” Smith said. “My family and I were really grateful for their kindness and generosity.”
When Kaitlin McBride graduated high school and found herself in financial trouble, the Conklings purchased her a computer and had the Kiwanis Club chip in to buy her a car so she could get back and forth to college.
Outside of their philanthropic efforts, Richard mentored the Observer’s own Shanna Fortier in photography through Take Stock in Children.
“I think Flagler’s always been progressive, supportive of the students,” Richard said. “It’s always been a leader among school districts.”
“Everything is about the kids,” Polly said.