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Stonington senior surprised with $20,000 scholarship from Cove Ledge

Stonington — A Stonington High School senior who is headed to Ringling College of Art & Design in Florida to study illustration was surprised with a $20,000 scholarship from Cove Ledge Beer, Wine and Spirits outside the Velvet Mill on Friday morning.

Eva Dale walked there with her mother just after 9 a.m., thinking she was getting a donation from a local artist to help finance the children's book she illustrated about a beloved local therapy dog who died in September (which she also was).

Dale rounded the corner of the North Bays to see more than 40 people gathered, all wearing masks. But she didn't realize the crowd was gathered for her until she saw a sign that said "Eva."

A woman she'd never met before — Annette Bienkowski, who owns Cove Ledge with her husband, Keith — gestured her over.

Annette began talking about the rite of passage and the pomp and circumstance seniors have lost this year, how Cove Ledge awards a scholarship every year, Dale's book and the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Dale's family before announcing the scholarship amount of $20,000, to a visibly surprised and emotional Dale and her mother.

Annette explained later this is the fourth year she and Keith have raised money for the scholarship, and it's grown from $5,000 to $8,000 to $15,000 to $20,000. The money was raised in one night from a ticketed event with donated food, auction items and music, held Feb. 8.

Annette said some of the local businesses that donated their goods and services to the fundraiser include Zest Fresh Pastry, Macondo, Whitecrest Eatery, Dog Watch Cafe and Handcraft Homestead Furniture.

Keith explained their scholarship criteria is someone who is in good academic standing, has demonstrated a passion for something over the years, has "demonstrated good community stewardship" and has a financial need. The Bienkowskis decided the scholarship this year would specifically be for someone going into visual arts.

Their selection of Dale was related to her work on a children's book titled "Phantom's Journey," which Dale hopes will be out next week.

Michelle Lake had gotten her first dog, a Bernese mountain dog named Phantom, as a housewarming present and thought Phantom had the temperament to be a therapy dog. She put him through the training and ended up taking Phantom on more than 740 visits — he could frequently be seen at libraries, Olde Mistick Village and Mystic Seaport — over five years.

Phantom died in September at age 10. Lake's co-workers at Waterford Hotel Group wanted to do something to honor Phantom and get a student involved. The writing came from local children's book author Beth Turley, whose father also works at Waterford Hotel Group.

One of the co-workers, Christine Andrews, had kids at Stonington High School and got in contact with career center coordinator Janice Lamb, who knew that Dale was an artist looking for a senior project.

Those who wish to order a copy of the book can do so at bit.ly/phantomsjourney.

After explaining that any profits from the book would go toward Forever in My Heart Foundation, a charity that trains rescue dogs to be service animals for disabled veterans, Dale looked at some dogs — including Phantom's cousin — and said, "I need to go pet these dogs. It's very important."

Annette had heard about the book on social media and was interested in giving the scholarship to Dale, so she got in contact with Lamb to learn more, Lamb said.

Dale said since her mother is a pastry chef and her father works in the music industry, both were out of work because of the pandemic, though her mother recently returned to work part time. Dale said she's had a lot of time to make art, and her mother, Emily Dale, enjoyed spending time with her only child.

Emily Dale said her reaction to the scholarship announcement Friday morning was "utter shock" and that "it's an amazing relief. It's huge."

e.moser@theday.com

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