Stephanie Wittman would have graduated from Freedom High School in 2009. A fatal car accident before her freshman year made that impossible, but Stephanie was at that graduation ceremony in name and will be every year.
The Stephanie Wittman Memorial Scholarship Fund each year helps a Freedom senior go on to college.
“It’s going to go on forever,” Shelley Wittman, her mother, said after the first scholarship was awarded. “Every single year at Freedom school, Stephanie Wittman will be remembered by someone.”
Shelley and her husband, Steve, decided to use memorials from their 13-year-old daughter’s funeral to start a future fund within the Community Foundation in 2005. They built up to the fund, reaching the level needed to award scholarships with the help of a chicken booyah dinner and concert put on by friends that raised $10,000 in an afternoon.
The first recipient chosen by the school’s selection committee was Arica VanBoxtel, a good friend of Stephanie’s. The two enjoyed playing basketball, volleyball and baseball together. Their birthdays are two days apart.
“I kind of feel like I have to make her proud,” Arica said. “It was a very big honor.”
She has continued to make Stephanie proud by raising more than $4,000 for the fund with sponsorships she raises when she competes in marathons.
The scholarship qualifications call for someone who is strong in school spirit, well-rounded, gets along with the other kids and respects teachers and classmates -- a description of Stephanie.
Shelley said working with the Community Foundation meant the family didn’t have to deal with overseeing investment of the scholarship fund or the application process. "Everything is basically done,” she said. She recommends it to other parents dealing with the loss of a child.
“Her name will be there, every year, forever,” she said. “The kids will know her, especially when they’re seniors and read the criteria they have to meet for that scholarship. I think it will be good for Freedom school to keep her memory there.”