As a high school senior, Kenneth Wilder was excited about being accepted to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Still, the cost of college concerned him as he didn’t want to graduate with a mountain of debt.
“When I got the news that I received The American Legion Legacy Scholarship, I was more than ecstatic,” said Kenneth, a junior ROTC student and two-time recipient of the scholarship. “It was the care that went into it. Knowing that there were people who donated to the scholarship for kids like us, my sister and I, to go off to college was more than awesome. It was a lot of feelings all at once.”
Kenneth is studying government with a minor in Arabic at William and Mary, which was founded in 1693, making it the second-oldest university in the United States. Mariah Wilder, a freshman at Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach, is studying psychology and considering a business minor.
“We’re the select few in tragedy, but we’re also the select few in blessing,” said Kenneth, who wants to pursue a law degree after getting his bachelor’s. “Knowing that the contributions come from far and wide just puts a smile on my face. Even though my father is no longer with us or this world, he hasn’t been forgotten. By them honoring both his legacy and our cherished memories, it’s a feeling that is hard to describe. It brings a lot of joy to us.”
Kenneth Jerome Jones, who served in the Army National Guard, was struck and killed by another driver when he was changing a tire on the side of the road on Oct. 26, 2003. He went on several deployments to Iraq. When he wasn’t deployed, Jones worked long hours to provide for his family.
“When he was stripped away from us,” Kenneth said, pausing. “Heart-breaking doesn’t do it justice. I remember the nights when my mom was crying and crying. You could feel the void.”
The American Legion Legacy Scholarship is awarded to students like Kenneth and Mariah. Children of post-9/11 servicemembers who are killed on active duty are eligible. So are children of post 9/11 servicemembers who have a combined VA disability rating of 50 percent or greater. The application period for the 2019-20 scholarship year opens Nov. 15. For more information visit www.legion.org/scholarships.
The scholarships help continue the legacies of fallen comrades like Jones, who valued higher education even though he was not able to obtain a degree. To Kenneth, it’s an “honor and obligation” to pursue his college degree in the memory of his father.
“Seeing him was intermittent but every time we saw him was a special time,” said Kenneth, who was age 8 when his father died. “Even though the visits were scarce, we enjoyed every single minute.”
Mariah was even younger at the time of Jones’ passing. Their mother, Grace, was pregnant with Samuel, who is now a high school freshman.
“My fondest memory of my dad is one time when he came home and just picked me up and twirled me around in a big circle,” Mariah said. “I just remember being so happy in that moment. Just having your dad hold you is really nice.”
The siblings don’t have to work part-time jobs, thanks to the scholarship. “It’s a blessing for me to be able to go to college and just focus on my education and not have to worry about paying everything off,” she says.
Mariah is appreciative of the donors who helped make the scholarship possible for her, Kenneth and other children of post 9/11 servicemembers.
“It’s been a blessing,” she says. “It’s very important to my family and me personally. It’s very heart-warming to say the least. Its’s very unexpected with the world we live in now. These people really care.”