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Memories light futures

Four new scholarships will be available to the Superior High School class of 2016 through the School District of Superior Scholarship Foundation Inc. Each of the endowed scholarships tells a unique story.

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Alistair Jay (A.J.) Conley, left, smiles with his siblings Bennett, Violet, Miles and Xavier in this family photo. The Conley family has funded a scholarship in memory of A.J., who died suddenly Oct. 31 at the age of 5. His grandmother said launching the fund has been satisfying because it lets the family know A.J. will be remembered. Submitted photo

Four new scholarships will be available to the Superior High School class of 2016 through the School District of Superior Scholarship Foundation Inc. Each of the endowed scholarships tells a unique story.

"That is why I continue to work with the Scholarship Foundation," said Nancy Pedersen, executive director. "It never ceases to amaze me how generous, thoughtful and kind people are, even when going through a very difficult time in their lives."

The SFC Matthew I. Pionk Scholarship was created in memory of Pionk, who grew up in Oliver. He attended Bryant Elementary, Central Junior High and graduated from Superior High schools. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1998. In 2004, he was seriously injured saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. In 2007, Pionk was again deployed to Iraq where he was killed along with five fellow soldiers while searching a house. He was married with three young children.

The scholarship will be given to a student going into auto mechanics, a love of Pionk’s.

"Matt loved working on cars and going to car shows during the summer," said his mother, Sandy. "He was so proud of the 1970 Chevy truck he restored while he attended Superior Senior High. Jim Bianchi was a great mentor and gave him a lot of guidance as he restored the truck and throughout his four years at Superior Senior."

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Matt was a friend to all and was always there to help anyone who needed it, his mother said.

"We want this scholarship to enable someone who has the same love in automotives Matt did to further their education," she said.

The Alistair Jay Conley Memorial Scholarship is being given by his family in memory of their son, who passed away suddenly in his sleep Oct. 31, at the age of 5. A.J., as his family called him, was a kindergarten student at Four Corners Elementary School. He left behind three brothers and one sister. In his short life, his friendly nature gave him many wonderful friends who supported the family during his sudden passing.

"The Four Corners community has been so kind to our family, so generous, we wanted to give back," said A.J.’s grandmother, Monica Tikkanen, who has worked for the school district for nearly 30 years. She said the foundation is an awesome resource for both graduating seniors and families who want to honor their loved ones.

"Kids are going to get help for college. We don’t even know who they are," Tikkanen said. "We just feel good about helping others in the future. That’s what a village is all about."

The Bob and Jill Gross Scholarship is intended for a student planning to attend Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College-Superior campus or the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Bob grew up in Milwaukee, attended UWS and was in the Air Force ROTC there. He met Jill after moving to Scottsdale, Ariz. Jill was a teacher and Bob worked for UW West/Quest there. They chose to establish a scholarship at Superior High School due to Bob’s love of Superior. They both retired a few years ago, but unfortunately Jill lost her battle with cancer a few weeks ago. Bob remains in Arizona.

The Jeffery L. Lewis Scholarship is being given by Lewis, who graduated from Superior High School. He received a scholarship upon graduation and is now generously giving back to his high school. According to Pedersen, Lewis just recently finished paying off his own student loan, and his employer matched funds to help set up the endowed scholarship. Lewis works out of the area with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

As endowed scholarships, each will be offered annually. A.J.’s family plans to award five additional one-year scholarships for each of the years his siblings graduate - 2025, 2026, 2030, 2031 - and 2028, the year he would have graduated. They will be awarded to students who attended Four Corners Elementary.

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The foundation has approximately 145 scholarships available to the class of 2016. About $240,000 in scholarships will be awarded to this year’s class, Pedersen said. Many years, there are more scholarships available than students applying for them, she said, and every student that applied has received a scholarship. But students need to apply in order to receive one. Applications are available in the guidance office at SHS and must be turned in by March 15.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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