When Chase Cooke opened an email from The American Legion last spring, he couldn’t believe his luck. With college starting in the fall, he learned he would receive $16,000 in aid for being an American Legion Legacy Scholarship recipient.
“This is something really big and from a kid that struggled in high school … I was just speechless. I couldn’t believe that it happened to me,” said Chase, who is from Galion, Ohio.
Chase’s father, Ron, shared his amazement.
“I never thought it could happen to us,” said Ron, a member of American Legion Post 68 in Wooster, Ohio. “Knowing that The American Legion can give back to the community like that, something as important as a young man or young woman’s college education is amazing. It makes your heart swell with pride knowing that I can be part of a great organization like The American Legion.”
Chase, 19, is a freshman at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, where he also plays quarterback on the football team. But if it wasn’t for his father, Chase does not believe he would be a Legacy Scholarship recipient, playing football or on track to be the first from his family to graduate college,.
In high school, Chase was excelling in football but not in academics. With his parents divorced, Chase lived 45 minutes away from his father, who saw the hardship Chase was facing and wanted give him a fresh start. Ron approached Chase with the idea of moving to a new school during his sophomore year, but Chase didn’t want to leave his older brother, Codi, a senior. Once Codi graduated, Ron came back to his son with the same offer, and Chase agreed. Starting with his junior year, he enrolled in a new school, joined a new football team, and lived with his father for the first time in years.
“It was a struggle. Leaving my family, my brothers (Codi and Dylan) and sister (Madisyn), leaving them was terrible. And leaving my friends,” Chase said. “But it was the sacrifice I had to make.”
Ron also made a sacrifice. He rented out his house in Wooster, moved into a small two-bedroom home in Galion, and commuted back to Wooster every day around 2 a.m. for work.
As a U.S. Marine veteran, Ron used the skills he learned during his more than 20 years in the service to guide his son academically and personally.
“Anybody can have tangibles … you can have the money for college or you can have financial security. It was the intangibles that I wanted to teach Chase – the self-discipline, the self-confidence, the self-reliance,” Ron said. “That’s what I learned from the Marine Corps – how are you going to make yourself successful in life.”
The kitchen table became the study area for Chase and Ron. It was there that the father and son worked on homework and studied for tests together.
Beyond schoolwork, discipline also was taught.
“He showwed me how to get my grades up, in a way of teaching me to put away the distractions ... unplugging the video games,” Chase said. “He used the stuff that he learned from the military and brought it upon me. That's just something I’m really grateful about.”
For two years both Chase and Ron made sacrifices. But had those sacrifices not been made, Chase believes “I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Him moving there, bringing me under his wing again, it’s really made a huge difference in my life.”
Ron said he would do it all over again.
“All I did was make drives. I can make drives. He was the one that had to do everything. I was just there to guide him,” Ron said. “He made a bigger sacrifice, he left his brothers and sister who look up to him. It was a sacrifice, but I would do it all over. The reward was seeing him graduate with a decent GPA.
“I did just a small part for Chase. The American Legion was the next step.”
Chase was eligible for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship because of his father’s post-9/11 military service and for his VA disability of 60 percent. The Legacy Scholarship is available for children of veterans who died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, or have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher. Recipients of the needs-based scholarship can receive up to $20,000 for six years.
The 2018 Legacy Scholarship application is online at www.legion.org/legacy-scholarship-application. Deadline to apply is April 9. Learn more about the scholarship at www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy.
The Legacy Scholarship “gave me hope that I can actually make it,” Chase said. “I would like to thank The American Legion from the bottom of my heart. They made everything possible for me; they relieved a huge stress of finances of college. (The American Legion) is just giving me hope. My senior year if I wouldn't have gotten that email, I don't know where I'd be.”
Chase is studying criminal law at Baldwin Wallace with hopes of becoming a state highway patrol officer. “As a kid I always thought an officer was the coolest job ever. I have wanted to be an officer my whole life.”
For Ron, he joined The American Legion to give back to his community and now he is amazed at what The American Legion has done for his family.
“I joined The American Legion knowing how much they take care of their military vets, their families. The Legacy Scholarship is allowing (Chase) to go to school; allowing him to focus on school. Words can’t even describe how blessed we are from the scholarship,” Ron said. “Chase is on the right path now. The reward was getting the (Legacy) Scholarship.”
Aside from getting his degree, Chase said his only goal is “to make my father proud of me.”
“I am just so proud of him,” Ron said.