By Dave Scheiber
They followed mirror-opposite routes to - and through - the University of
South Florida, with divergent backgrounds and professional interests that
virtually assured their paths would never cross as students.
April Monteith grew up as a self-described Air Force brat, whose family
moved with her military dad to bases around the country and as far away as
Tokyo. Attending high school in Panama City, she developed a fondness for
Florida State University but ultimately chose USF - earning an
undergraduate degree in finance, adding a master's in business
administration, and promptly embarking on a banking career.
Nikki Stokes grew up in Tampa, the daughter of two USF professors, but
opted to attend - wait for it - Florida State. She transferred to USF for
the final semester of her senior year, however, earning a degree in
psychology and then getting a master's from USF's College of Public Health,
soon diving into the non-profit world.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the busy, rewarding lives both
April and Nikki enjoy today.
They became the best of friends - with a rare kind of college bond that, in
their case, just happened to begin after college. And their
relationship has now produced a tangible benefit for USF.
April recently made a deferred gift to USF's Alumni Association though the
Foundation's Office of Gift Planning - and it was Nikki, having switched
professions to financial planning in 2011, who suggested the gift take the
form of an insurance policy and collaborated with Assistant Vice President
for Gift Planning Marion Yongue to make it all happen.
"April is still a young woman, so hopefully it will be many, many years in
the future before her gift will be realized," Yongue says. "That's why an
insurance policy in her name, one that USF now owns, made sense, and is
often an appealing option for those wanting to make a larger gift. And it's
always helpful to have an expert financial planner like Nikki involved in
It's only fitting that April has designated her gift to one day benefit the
Alumni Association. The former USF student ambassador - now a successful
corporate relationship banking executive - began her tenure in July as
board chair of the USF Alumni Association, where she will lead the charge
with alumni engagement and enhance the association's strategic direction,
working with executive director Bill McCausland.
"Bill and I have talked about how you're an alumni for a lot longer period
than you're a student," she says. "And the Alumni Association plays such a
critical role in helping alumni connect with the university."
When it comes to alumni connecting, April and Nikki have quite a tale. Just
consider: Within six months of meeting, April was a bridesmaid in Nikki's
wedding. And when Nikki's first daughter was born, she made April the
baby's godmother. Today they see and talk to one another regularly - and
even lead a Girl Scout troop together. April is like an aunt to Nikki's
three girls, Callie, 7, and twins Charlie and Brooke, 4.
April's own childhood was one of constant motion, as her father moved the
family from base to base. When he transferred to Tyndall AFB in Panama
City, she was able to attend the same high school all four years, earning
straight-As and became an avid Seminoles fan. Nobody in her family had ever
attended a four-year college, and her decision finally boiled down to two
in-state choices: FSU and USF. In the end, she opted for USF to be near her
grandparents, eventually earning her undergraduate degree in finance in
2001 and an MBA in 2003. That opened the door to a training program with
AmSouth Bank, putting her on a path as an assistant branch manager.
Nikki, meanwhile, was certainly no stranger to USF even though she'd
attended FSU for her first three undergraduate years. Her step-mother, Dr.
Vickie Phares, is a clinical psychology professor and father is head of the
jazz studies program, Grammy-nominated pianist Chuck Owen. Initially, the
idea of helping people by pursuing her mom's field appealed to her. But
after earning her psychology degree from USF in 2003, Nikki wasn't
satisfied in her job at a local mental health center. Having been diagnosed
as a freshman with Crohn's Disease, an often debilitating condition
affecting the G.I. tract, she decided to go for her master's in public
Little did they know but their separate paths were about to intersect -
thanks to a shared desire to help people and make an impact in the
community. April and Nikki each joined the board of the non-profit Ophelia
Project - now known as Frameworks of Tampa Bay - to help with the pressing
issue of school bullying among middle school girls. "We're both
people-oriented and go-getters, so we immediately became friends," recalls
"We were opposite in so many ways that we wouldn't normally have become
close," adds Nikki. "But we had to work on a project together and we hit it
off right away."
The rest is history. April followed a steady ascent that has led to her
current role with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. as a vice president with the
Middle Market Banking team. Nikki took a successful detour into
fundraising. But after a flare-up of Crohn's when her first child was born,
she decided to seek a career with greater flexibility and earning potential
- and allow more time with her husband and kids.
One of her friends, a recruiter at Northwestern Mutual, had a suggestion:
become a financial planner. She made the jump, becoming the first woman in
her practice to "impact" 100 people in her first year - en route to
becoming managing director of Northwestern Mutual's Westshore Office.
In that capacity, she guided April through the process of making her
deferred gift. "I love what I do and am honored to help my clients plan for
their financial futures," Nikki says. "It's even more rewarding when I see
a client make a significant philanthropic gesture like the one by April."
The best friend she never knew at USF.