Donor Profile: Renee Zupon
No matter how long a student spends at Stevenson, the connection they forge with our community is anything but fleeting. For many alumni, the bond with the School is lifelong. Graduates often share that they carry closely the values, knowledge, friendships, and memories imparted by the School, and that their Stevenson relationships and experiences shape their lives in powerful ways.
This notion—closeness that transcends distance—is a value that was treasured and modeled by the School’s namesake, the 19th-century Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. One of Stevenson’s most long-lasting and formative relationships was with Jules Simoneau, a chef and innkeeper who nursed Stevenson back to health during a bout of illness while he visited the Monterey Peninsula in 1879. The time that Stevenson and Simoneau actually spent in each other’s presence was limited; Stevenson was only in Monterey for a few months. And yet, their friendship lasted—and even strengthened—over the course of their lifetimes via correspondence, exchanged gifts, and infrequent visits. Their connection is further proof that intimacy does not require proximity. Sometimes the things that touch us continue to change us, long after our last encounter with them has passed.
Inspired by the bond between Simoneau and Stevenson, the School created the Simoneau Society: a planned giving society whose members are donors that choose to include Stevenson in their post-life giving plan.
Recently, the Simoneau Society tragically and unexpectedly gained a new member, Deven Hickingbotham ’74, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 2019. Though Deven’s death was sudden and his family unprepared in many ways, he and his wife Renee had done careful estate planning that allowed Renee to make a $1,000,000 gift to Stevenson, a place she explains that Deven always said was “instrumental to his personal growth.”
Though Renee, born and raised in Michigan, was not a Pirate, Stevenson played a major role in her adult life thanks to Deven. The School and the lessons her husband learned there were always present in his life, and he maintained a loyal allegiance to the School. In fact, he was so passionate about Stevenson that he and Renee chose to enroll their children, Carter ’08 and Hilary ’10, and during their time at Stevenson Deven offered his skills as a photographer for their children’s athletics games. Renee explains, “RLS provided Deven, Carter, and Hilary a place to make friends, learn to be a true student, and experience how to be a team member, friend, and leader.”
Recognizing that Stevenson had shaped all of the people she most loved, when Renee decided to make a donation to Stevenson, she designated it for a specific, vital purpose, and one that hit close to home: to help support students at the school who had lost a parent. Having experienced, firsthand, the genuine devastation that the loss of a parent can cause children, she knew that remaining part of a close-knit, loving, supportive community could make the key difference between successfully navigating or failing to cope with grief. Renee hopes that the fund can help children remain at Stevenson following such a loss so that they can be surrounded by the love, support, and guidance of a community of teachers, mentors, and friends. She also wants to help ensure that no student has to relinquish the experience of graduating from Stevenson, even if their family’s financial situation is altered by the loss.
When Renee explains her decision to set up this particular fund, she says “I have personal experience with the devastation an unexpected death can have on a family. My children, while young adults, were impacted and we felt that helping students stay in a school with friends and supportive teachers and staff could help in the healing process. It can never replace a parent, but a supportive network can be the difference between coping or becoming stuck.”
Renee’s decision to donate to Stevenson is another demonstration of connection beyond proximity, of the ability to hold something close even when it is no longer in front of you. For Deven, Hilary, and Carter, Stevenson remained an essential part of their lives and their compass long after the time they spent at the School. Renee hopes that the fund will remind grieving members of the Pirate community that something or someone loved can always be present with you, even if they’re no longer physically nearby.
Renee encourages members of the community who similarly carry their Stevenson experience close to their heart to consider donating to the fund set up in Deven’s honor. She writes, “Friends of Deven, Carter, and Hilary are welcome to remember Deven when they make their annual gifts to Stevenson by designating their contributions to this fund. We received many kind words of support during a most trying time, and our family wishes to pay it forward in hopes that the fund recipients will do the same at a time and in a manner of their choosing. Those we love and lose are no longer where they were before, they are now wherever we are.”
Donations may be made online at stevensonschool.org/giving/make-a-gift or by sending a check to 3152 Forest Lake Road, Pebble Beach, California 93953.