Thousands of students have been aided by Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation

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Thousands of students have been aided by Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation

by: Edward Colimore | .
The Philadelphia Inquirer | .
published: April 07, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (Tribune News Service) — Kerry Walters Jr. might not be attending the University of Pennsylvania without the help of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. It would have been too costly.

His family's finances were stretched thin, partly because his father, a Marine, was wounded during the Vietnam War and his earning ability was affected by deteriorating health.

But the foundation came to the rescue, as it has for nearly 33,000 others since it was established in 1962. It provides Walters $2,500 a year, over and above other grants and financial aid.

"By lifting some of my financial burden, the scholarship has allowed me to worry a bit less about financing my education and has given me more time and energy to dedicate towards school," said Walters, 25, a sophomore and mathematics major who grew up in Chaska, Minn. "It has definitely helped me get to Penn."

For more than five decades, the scholarship foundation has honored Marines such as Jones' father, Kerry Sr., by educating their children, with special attention to those whose parents have been killed or wounded in combat or who demonstrated financial need.

The organization — the oldest and largest of its kind providing scholarships to military children — will thank supporters while marking its 53d anniversary at 6 p.m. April 17 with a gala celebratory ball at the Hilton Philadelphia at Penn's Landing.

Among those being recognized is one of the foundation's board members, John C. Heenan, 64, of Ivyland, Bucks County, who will receive the Commandants' Award for his leadership and support over the last 10 years.

The award — at the 40th annual Philadelphia ball — has been given to seven others from the Philadelphia area, including philanthropist Henry Rowan, for whom Rowan University is named.

"Our mission is simple and vital," said Margaret B. Davis, president and CEO of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation. "In a world where Marines have sacrificed so much, we honor them by providing their children with more affordable access to critical education.

"This foundation makes a meaningful and lasting impact on every individual we touch — 2,200 per year," she said. "Thanks to support from John Heenan and thousands of others each year, we're supplying the front lines of America's future with the honor, courage, and commitment found in Marine children."

Heenan, a native of Havertown, served in the Marines from 1969 to 1972, part of time providing security at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, and was in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1975. Today, he's the founder and CEO of the Fairlane Management Corp., a Willow Grove firm that provides management services to the hazardous-waste industry.

But Heenan never forgot the military. He worked to make sure the children of Marines have scholarships for college and encouraged support for those seeking technical training.

"We all know those who have gotten four-year degrees and worked at Best Buy, not using their degree and ending up $40,000 to $50,000 in debt," Heenan said. "I'm not knocking college education. It's good for many people but not everyone. Not everyone can be a doctor, lawyer, or accountant."

The country also "needs welders, diesel mechanics, and plumbers," said Heenan, who is married and has three children and eight grandchildren. "There's a screaming need for people who can build machinery and fix houses.

"These are skills that make you employable," he said. "I like to do things anonymously, but I'm so gung-ho about this [career technical education] program, I agreed to accept the award to draw attention to it."

The foundation has provided scholarships to 84 students in 94 schools in Pennsylvania, and 24 students attending 16 schools in New Jersey. The amounts run from $1,500 to $10,000 a year, Heenan said, and are based on several factors, including financial need and whether a Marine parent had been killed or wounded in combat.

More than 33,000 scholarships valued at nearly $90 million have been provided since the foundation was formed. Fifty percent of the children who receive the aid are first-generation college students, and 86 percent graduate from their degree program within four years, foundation officials said.

When Heenan isn't helping the sons and daughters of fellow Marines, he regularly serves as a rifleman in the honor guard at Washington Crossing National Cemetery at Newtown.

He's treasurer of the group, the Guardians of the National Cemetery, and also provides management services to the nonprofit Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

"I'm very thankful to God, the Marines, and this country — and happy to give back," said Heenan, whose great-great-grandfather Dennis Heenan led Union troops at the Battle of Fredericksburg as a colonel during the Civil War and who has four brothers who served in the Marines, Army, and Navy. "It might sound corny, but I'm passionate about this stuff."

Kerry Walters Jr. is thankful for that passion because his family members "aren't able to help support me financially in any way," he said. "I'm pretty much left to fully support myself."

But Walters said his father — though injured in the Marines — "is very proud of his military service . . .. It's something that has shaped him as a person, which in turn has been passed down to my younger brothers and me," he said.

ecolimore@phillynews.com

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