SPARTA, NJ – The meeting room at the VFW was packed last Sunday evening as people gathered for the launch of the Ralph Rojas Scholarship Fund.  The fund was established by Sparta attorney Jacqueline O’Donnell in honor of Korean War veteran Ralph Rojas.

The scholarship will be available to people in Sussex County who are in the military or are from a military family and wish to pursue further education explained Sparta VFW Commander Peter Litchfield.  In a presentation about the fund, Litchfield reviewed the application process and introduced the scholarship committee.

With each branch of the military represented, the committee is comprised of:

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  • Litchfield, a Marine having served in Vietnam
  • Captain Bill Miller an “Air Force pilot who flew troops and equipment home from south west Asia.”
  • Stan Tryba a Navy Master Chief
  • Doug Nobile a U.S. Army Purple Heart recipient having served in Vietnam
  • Lt. Colonel Ron Pace a “Marine Corps helicopter pilot who flew in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The veterans, together with O’Donnell will review the applications that will include biographical information, proof of veteran status and residency and acceptance into college, university, ROTC or Service Academy.  They will also be asked to submit an essay explaining academic goals, military connection and how the military has or is expected to affect their character according to Litchfield. 

The completed application package will have to contain a letter of recommendation and high school transcripts if applicable.  The deadline for consideration will be April 30.

“Ralph was a humble man,” Rojas’ widow Deloras said.  “He would be humbled and honored by this.  He valued higher education as a way to better oneself so it is fitting that this scholarship be created in his memory.”

“The VFW is involved because people move away but the VFW will remain,” Litchfield explained. 

Litchfield gave a bit of history regarding the VFW building. 

“You may remember a while ago someone suggested the town take this building down and make it a parking deck,” Litchfield said.  “We did a bit of investigating and found that the deed says if the VFW ceases to exist, the property reverts to the heirs of the original property owner.”

Litchfield said the property had been donated long ago by the Sanford family.  The Sanford family was deeded the property by William Penn.  Initially the building served as the ambulance building but later became the VFW. 

While many factors led to O’Donnell creating the fund a few notable incidents stand out.  Her father was in the Navy, stationed in Hawaii when O’Donnell was born.

“Yes, I was actually born in the same hospital as Obama,” O’Donnell said.

Having recently returned to Hawaii with her parents and her three sons, O’Donnell was struck by the emotional response she saw when her father was able to return to the base on which he served, overlooking Pearl Harbor.

While visiting friend on Long Island O’Donnell had the opportunity to speak with a disabled veteran who was on a recumbent bike ride raising funds for charity.

“That really struck a chord with me,” O’Donnell said.  “I had known I wanted to do Something for the community but wasn’t sure what.  After those experiences, I knew this is what I had to do.”

With the presentation not even complete, people who had come for dinner were giving her checks to donate to the fund.   

Anyone wishing to contribute to the scholarship fund can send it to her law office at 66 Main Street or drop it off with Litchfield at the Sparta VFW.  Checks should be made out to “Sparta VFW 7248 Ralph Rojas Scholarship Fund.”

Scholarships between $1,000 and $2,000 will be awarded at a ceremony on May 16, 2018 at the Sparta VFW.  The funds can be used for any costs related to education. 

Rojas and his sons organized and ran the Christmas tree sale on the front lawn of the VFW, a tradition that will continue.  Tree sale is slated to begin on Black Friday.