Md. fire company gives away record $31K in scholarships
Students receiving the scholarships must be enrolled in an emergency program such as EMS, fire, medical or in the health or emergency field
By Jon Kelvey
Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.
FINKSBURG, Md. — The Gamber volunteer fire company has helped award $31,000 in scholarships to four Carroll County students this year.
That’s a record total, according to Clay Myers, fire company public information officer.
Wyatt Cox and Sydney White, who graduated from Westminster High School this year, received $12,500 each through the Oscar Brothers Memorial Scholarship. Cox is headed to Salisbury University, and White to Messiah University.
“It will actually pay for over one year of my tuition, which is amazing, I am very grateful for that,” Cox said. “I am planning on studying elementary education.”
Makenzie Leppert, who graduated this year from Winters Mill High School, received a $4,000 fire company scholarship to study nursing at Stevenson University, while Gailynn Petry, an EMT student at Carroll Community College, received $2,000.
“It will help out tremendously,” Petry said. “The EMT program I believe was $2,000 just for the fall and winter semester, and that’s not including books.”
The reason for the record total is two-fold, according to Myers, beginning with the awarding of two Oscar Brothers scholarships.
“Normally they just award one, which is $12,500. If the student gets honors they get an extra $500 every semester, so it could go up; they could get $4,000 extra over the course of a four-year college,” Myers said. “Last year we gave 1.5 scholarships, so we did $12,500, and then we gave half of that.”
Carroll County has 14 fire companies, mostly staffed by volunteers, and some of which have been in service since the 1800s.
It was partly the strength of the candidates that led to the two scholarships, and partly the generosity and means of the Brothers family that funds them.
“I think both individuals we found to be pretty strong,” Gary Brothers said. “We felt comfortable in being able to provide an additional scholarship.”
Gary Brothers lives in South Carolina, but he grew up with his three brothers near the firehouse there because of their father, Oscar.
“Our dad was one of the founding members and the first president of the [Gamber community fire company],” Brothers wrote in an email. “He died relatively young; our dad passed away at age 64 in 1981.”
As the brothers grew up and did well in life, they eventually decided to launch the scholarship fund in 2008 as a way to memorialize the father and give back to the Gamber community.
“We wanted to leave some lasting legacy of our family in the community that will live in perpetuity,” Brothers wrote in an email. “Gamber was good to all of us growing up, it’s at the core of who we are and what we are.”
And so the Oscar Brothers Memorial Scholarship requires that applicants reside within the Gamber First Strike Fire District, although, Myers notes, that’s difficult to define — it’s based on mileage and response times for the fire company.
“It doesn’t follow ZIP codes or anything else,” he said. “Our district runs all the way up to Smallwood and runs all the way down to where I live down near Freedom Elementary School and stops right there. Then it goes all the way over to Finksburg Plaza on the east side, and on the west side it kind of goes over to Klee Mill Road and Cherry Tree Lane.”
Once meeting that requirement, applicants for the Brothers scholarship are assessed on the basis of a 500-word essay, volunteer work, extracurriculars and family need.
“We keep drawing more and more applicants year after year,” Brothers said. “I think we had 12 applicants this year, a pretty sizable group drawing from just the Gamber First Strike Fire District.”
The scholarships given out by the Gamber company directly are separate from the Brothers family, are funded by memorial contributions to the fire company and are just a few years old, according to Myers. The major stipulations for those scholarships are that applicants must be members of the fire company or family members of a member, and then they must be using the funds to pursuing education in the emergency services.
“They have to be enrolled in an emergency program of some type, either EMS or fire or medical or in the health or emergency field,” Myers said. Leppert is the daughter of a fire company member pursuing a nursing career, for instance.
Petry, however, is a member herself, and has not only studied to be an EMT, she’s planning on becoming a career firefighter.
“I am in three different processes right now for Howard County, Montgomery and Frederick to be a paid firefighter and EMT to get through their academy,” she said.
Petry’s plan is to go back to school after the academy in Carroll Community College’s paramedic program, and to continue to volunteer at Gamber going forward, while recommending both the fire service and the Gamber scholarship to others thinking about such a career.
“I think it’s a great thing to do honestly — I am trying to get my litter sisters involved,” she said. “The training is amazing, the people are great, and you know you are out there helping people on their worst day. Anything you can do to help them out is a great thing.”
©2019 the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.)