Shelley Belk and Van Eure: Investing in hope

Jill Knight

Jill Knight

by Todd Cohen

For the one in four families affected by mental illness, finding treatment and a cure can be difficult, frustrating, and often heart-breaking, particularly in a society that stigmatizes the disease.

The late Thad and Alice Eure encountered those challenges 40 years ago when their 17-year-old son, Thad Eure III, was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder. After scouring the U.S. looking for answers and finding few solutions, the couple started thinking about what they could do to foster research about mental illness. In 1984, they founded the Foundation of Hope, which has funded $4.3 million for research that has generated another $140 million in federal research grants.

The Foundation always has been a family affair. Driving it in its early years were its founders: Thad Eure Jr., the Raleigh restaurateur best known for The Angus Barn and 42d Street Oyster Bar as well as the Darryl’s and Fat Daddy’s chains, died in 1988. Alice Eure, an interior designer who owned and operated Stewart Woodard Galleries, died in 1997. Their two daughters continue to be key players. Van Eure, 60, owner of Angus Barn, has chaired the foundation’s main fundraising event, the Thad and Alice Eure Walk for Hope, since it was launched 27 years ago. Shelley Eure Belk, 56, who was a longtime board member, has served as the foundation’s executive director since 2012.

“Severe mental illness is a lifetime of living with the illness,” says Belk. “Many people don’t realize that mental illness is a disease of the brain. People can’t see that someone is struggling and suffering, because the signs of mental illness are not visible.”

She and her husband, Dean Belk, a retired pilot for US Airways, live in Raleigh with their 11-year-old twins, Ellison and Hayes. Van Eure and her husband, Steve Thanhauser, co-owner of The Angus Barn and The Pavilion at the Angus Barn, live in Raleigh. They have two children – Christopher, 22, a rising junior at Peace University and a cook at The Angus Barn, and Ali, 16, a rising junior at North Raleigh Christian Academy.

This is a busy time for the family and the foundation: The Foundation’s Evening of Hope, a gala dinner at The Pavilion at the Angus Barn, will be held September 24, and the 27th Annual Walk for Hope is October 11 at The Angus Barn.

Walk for Hope

Walk for Hope

How is your brother, Thad?

Shelley Belk: He now is 57. He lives by himself. He has a wonderful doctor. Our goal is to keep him on his medication and living independently. Every once in a while he has a relapse and goes back into the hospital. That’s what happens with mental illness.

What does the Foundation of Hope mean to you?

Van Eure: It’s fulfilling a severe need in our society. This medical field has basically been overlooked for a very long time.

What do the Foundation’s grants support?

SB: The majority of our money goes to the North Carolina Neurosciences Hospital at UNC-Chapel Hill. We fund brilliant seed research projects. Each study we fund takes approximately three years to germinate an idea, and then there may be breakthroughs. What we hope is that our seed projects then attract national funding.

How does the Foundation raise money?

SB: We have three main events: The Bike for Hope in April raises about $25,000; the Evening of Hope every September raises approximately $200,000; the Walk for Hope raises approximately $400,000.

What progress has been made on mental illness?

VE: The stigma is slowly but surely being reduced, especially with the military focus on post-traumatic stress disorder. Major strides have been made in the field of mental illness with medication, therapy, research. In the past, people would just be locked up in basements. Today, someone can actually say, “I am bipolar,” and talk about it freely.

SB: In 1984, research was very drug-related. Today, while people are always going to be looking for new drugs, there is definitely a change in focus on non-invasive treatment for mental illness.

What challenges remain?

SB: Trying to help the majority of the population recognize this is a real brain disease that needs to be addressed. There’s a stigma associated with mental illness. And finding funding for mental illness research is much more difficult than finding funding for other causes. People like to see immediate results. In mental illness research, you have to have a lot of patience. Our research comes inch by inch by inch.

VE: What bothers me is the stereotyping and the lack of hospitals that provide rooms or beds for the mentally ill.

Your grandfather, Thad Eure, was a political legend – the longest-ever serving North Carolina Secretary of State, from 1936 to 1989 – and your father was a visionary businessman. What was it like growing up as part of that legacy?

VE: I was very, very proud of my grandfather and very proud of all my father’s accomplishments. But there are also certain expectations of being part of a family that’s made a difference in the community. We were always expected to walk the walk. We all have been working since we were 14 years old. At Angus Barn, we had to work harder than anybody else because he didn’t want anybody saying, “Thad Eure’s kids get off easy.”

What did you want to be when you grew up?

SB: A flight attendant. I got a degree in education at UNC-Chapel Hill. I was a flight attendant for 14 years with Piedmont Airlines. Then I started my own interior design business, Eure Distinctive Designs. I also was a general contractor. I built custom homes.

VE: A veterinarian. But I got so involved in the restaurant in high school and college. And then I decided I wanted to teach, so I got my teaching degree. I went overseas, to Kenya, and taught school for five years. It was the best thing I ever did in my entire life. It taught me how to get by on hardly anything. The simple things in life are the most important. It’s what caused me to start a huge conservation, energy, and recycling plan at Angus Barn when I first started running it after my father died.

What do you like about Raleigh?

SB: I lived for 20 years in Charlotte because of my flying job. This feels like home.

VE: It still has a small town feel.

What inspires you?

SB: My family.

VE: My religion. I’m a Christian.

What do you do for fun?

SB: I have 11-year-old twins. They are my fun.

VE: I work with my rescue animals, currently nine – three horses, one donkey, three dogs, two cats, and one pig. I have a foundation, The Cheyenne Foundation, which provides funds for rescuing animals.

What is your philosophy of life?

SB: Work hard. Stay loyal to your friends and family. They are your lifeline.

VE: A quote from a friend of my mine: “It’s your attitude not your aptitude that determines your altitude in life.”