SPARTA, NJ – Sparta attorney Jackie O’Donnell has established a new scholarship fund in honor of veteran Ralph Rojas. The fund will be launched with an open house celebration at the Sparta VFW which is adjacent to O’Donnell’s law office.
The scholarship will “honor and celebrate military veterans and their families,” according to O’Donnell. A ‘military brat’ herself, O’Donnell is the daughter of retired a Naval Intelligence Captain. She was born in Hawaii while her father served under Admiral Nimitz, providing him daily intelligence briefings.
Several recent experiences pushed O’Donnell to establish the scholarship. Recently the family, including her parents and her three sons traveled to Hawaii. They were able to briefly get into the Pacific Command Center at Makalapa Naval Station overlooking Pearl Harbor.
“The pride and delight on my father’s face as he returned to the base where he served almost 50 years earlier will be a memory I will never forget,” O’Donnell said. “Growing up I remember my dad is his dress whites and how people saluted him, but I didn’t really understand it until later.”
Years ago, O’Donnell became increasingly aware of the number of veterans returning from war with Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her law firm specializes in personal injury with a concentration on Traumatic Brain Injuries. O’Donnell has tried to find a way to help veterans on a local level.
“She has always been here to support us,” VFW Commander Pete Litchfield about O’Donnell said.
“Things just kept happening in my life which encouraged me over and over to find a way to help,” O’Donnell said. “During the summer, I met a veteran who had lost his arm and leg while deployed and he was on an adaptive bicycle raising money for other veterans. We spoke for an hour and I was awestruck by his strength and courage. That experience and the recent death of Ralph Rojas, gave me the idea for this Scholarship Foundation. I am awestruck by the endless determination and self-sacrifice which these veterans possess.”
Rojas was 84 when he passed away on September 14. He served with the Army in Korea and went on to work at Picatinny Arsenal before retiring in the 1980’s. He was an active member of the Sparta Elks, American Legion and St. Thomas Aquin church in Odgensburg. The Franklin resident and his wife ran the Christmas tree sale for the Sparta VFW.
“Ralph Rojas never came into my office without his VETERAN hat on,” O’Donnell said. “He was a kind, generous, altruistic man, and we miss him deeply here at my office. I keep waiting for him to pop in with his big smile. I know that he is smiling down from heaven since that we are honoring him at the VFW. But, I know that he is also asking what all the fuss is about too. His legacy will go on.”
Delores Rojas, Ralph’s wife said, “I am very surprised and honored that Jackie O’Donnell did this in memory of my husband Ralph. My family and I are very touched.”
Deloras Rojas said her husband was a private person and would never have expected to be honored in this way.
Military pride runs deep in O’Donnell’s family. Her cousins were Navy Seals and F-14 Naval Aviators, as well as Paratroopers.
“Military men and women and their families, are some of the bravest and most selfless people I know,” O’Donnell said.
The Rojas fund will allow the Sparta VFW to award an annual scholarship to military personnel or their family to further their education.
“He was very proud to serve his country,” Deloras Rojas said. “We are deeply grateful to the O’Donnell Law Firm for providing this scholarship which will enable an applicant to pursue an education. Ralph and our family know how important education is.”
“On behalf of the Sparta VFW 7248, I want to thank Jackie for her most generous support and for getting this Scholarship Fund started,” Litchfield said. “Ralph Rojas was a great guy, and his legacy will continue through her efforts.”
The VFW welcomes the community to attend a free dinner on Sunday, November 5 at 6 p.m. “to share food, comradery and pride as we gather together to honor our veterans and their families and announce the details of the scholarship foundation,” O’Donnell said.
See https://www.facebook.com/spartavfw for more details or contact Sparta VFW Post #7248 at (973) 729-7011.