Town of Nags Head announces Lightkeeper, Nags Header award recipients

Published 3:36 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

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At their June 7, 2023 meeting, Nags Head’s commissioners recognized three citizens for the positive impacts they’ve made to the community over the years.

“We’re fortunate to have a long history of engagement in our town,” said Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon. “The contributions made by the individuals we recognized represent the mission and vision we have for our town: a history rooted in our shared values and a common love for the Outer Banks. And, in their individual ways, each has shown incredible commitment to Nags Head, and through their service, they’ve bestowed a long-lasting, meaningful influence on our community.”

Sandra Austin was presented with the Lightkeeper award, which distinguishes individuals who have shown significant personal and professional leadership. Nominees are judged on the following criteria:

  • the degree to which their services or actions have made a meaningful contribution or impact to Nags Head;
  • the length and degree of their service;
  • the extent to which their service or actions might be considered exemplary;
  • the extent to which their actions would be recognized and valued by their peers and other community leaders.
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In 1960, Sandra Austin and her husband Jimmy, then a commercial fisherman, started the First Colony gas station across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Later, in 1977, they added seafood to their gas station and garage, starting a business that is still successful today and part of the fabric that is Nags Head. After Jimmy’s death in 2010, Sandra continued managing the business and running the register, gaining many friends and a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense worker. At 84 years old, she still works the register, treating visitors as family and sharing information about the community with anyone who is interested. She’s been an advocate of various charitable causes and, for 10 years, has supported the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by holding fundraisers, making donations and keeping donation jars at the market for the public to get involved.

“Our Lightkeeper award honors those who have made significant contributions to Nags Head through their time, actions, talents, and dedication, and who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to our community,” said Cahoon. “Sandra Austin has elevated, through 63 years of commerce in fresh, local seafood, the image of Nags Head. And she continues to do so, greeting customers and supporting the community in a host of other ways.”

The Nags Header award, which recognizes deceased individuals who have shaped the culture of Nags Head since its incorporation in 1961, was presented to Kathy Fessler Clarkin, daughter of Richard and Jo Fessler.

A former president of the Nags Head Volunteer Fire Department and a member of that organization for 18 years, Dick Fessler was instrumental in the construction and financing of the Douglas A. Remaley Fire Station 16, working with the United States Department of Agriculture to fund the building. He also led the push to purchase the town’s first ladder truck and the effort to improve fire protection in Nags Head through a shift from an all-volunteer department to a career service, which contributed to lower fire insurance rates for Nags Head’s property owners. Dick, along with other notable leaders of that time, helped create Crimeline, which serves as a vital bridge between Dare County’s citizens and its law enforcement officials.

Jo also played an important role in the evolution of the fire service in Nags Head by being active in the department’s auxiliary and through serving for 26 years as a trustee on the town’s Firefighter’s Relief Fund.

“It is people like the Fesslers who have made Nags Head the kind of town it is today,” said Cahoon. “For their contributions to the community, and for the impacts they’ve made to our town’s culture, they’ve more than earned the Nags Header award.”