Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

A new scholarship in Janesville

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Greg Peck
Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Many readers likely remember the name John McPoland. John came to Janesville from Iowa as Sunday sports editor many years ago, back when I served as The Gazette’s Sunday editor. He was full of life and never at a loss to share his sharp views on anything from sports to politics to popular culture. But that blustery side softened as illness ravaged his body. He lost much weight after being diagnosed with diabetes. He grew more compassionate and humble as cancer dug in. He came from a loving family in Dubuque, Iowa. Their hearts are as big as John once was. When John died several years ago, it left a large void among his loved ones back home and among his co-workers here at The Gazette. That’s why I joined many people in donating to a scholarship fund in his name.

John's relatives came to town last Wednesday for the annual evening of scholarship announcements at Craig High School. The McPoland scholarship was one of two new ones.

First, John’s relatives—his parents, siblings and nieces and nephews—stopped in at The Gazette. There were many watery eyes as we renewed acquaintances. The McPoland family later headed to Craig for the ceremony. His sister, Shelly Klinkhammer, works as a nurse for a home care service in Iowa and sends out daily inspirational messages. On Thursday, she reflected on the occasion.

“It has been nearly four years since my brother John died, and I can hardly remember a day passing when I have not thought of him. … Eight members of our family traveled to Janesville to give out the first annual John McPoland Memorial Scholarship. As we drove into Janesville, my mom quietly asked to drive by his old house, and we silently prayed that whoever is living in the home loves it as much as John had. I smiled as I could think of so many laughs we had in his kitchen, and felt my heart ache as I remembered the tears we had also shed.”

At The Gazette building, “My mom whispered ‘This is going to be hard...’ I held her hand as we walked in and instead of sadness felt such joy for John’s other family and friends, and could not hold back the tears as they immediately reminded us that they, too, miss him and think of him often.”

Regarding the ceremony at Craig High School, Shelly wrote, “I felt so close to my brother I could hardly speak. He would have been so proud of the recipient for his first scholarship. My brother Mike and I went to say a few words and were both overcome with emotion. We were able to give the award to this lovely young gal, who knew John. I think he would have approved of our selection.”

That first scholarship went to Katie Villa. I was honored to have the McPolands ask me to help serve on the scholarship selection committee with them. Three co-workers and I pored over and ranked applicants separately. Katie rose to the top, and she did so with the McPolands, as well.

The McPoland scholarship is to go to an exceptional athlete or someone who plans to study journalism. Katie excelled in sports for Craig, is an accomplished musician and plans to study medicine. Yes, Katie’s dad, Joe, works in maintenance and her mom, Mary Jo, is our vice president of strategic operations here at The Gazette. I was concerned about picking Katie from among the applicants and leaving future applicants with the mistaken impression that you must be connected to our company to win. Katie’s credentials, however, made her a worthy applicant. If she hadn’t won based on those, her essay put her over the top, as she recalled childhood conversations about sports with John. He encouraged her, she wrote, in a way that I could almost picture. That essay brought tears to most or all who screened the applicants. Katie is right—her career plans dovetail well with John’s health struggles.

The McPolands met Katie’s family after Thursday evening’s ceremony. “I remembered her dad instantly as the man who helped us load up John's desk before we brought him home (for John's final days),” Shelly wrote. “It was a tough couple days of emotions. But there were a lot of laughs, as well. All I can say is, John, you made a difference in Katie Villa’s life!

“Thank you to our friends/family in Janesville for your warm reception. You are also on my mind more than I care to admit!”

Hats off to Katie Villa and to the McPoland family for helping see through John’s dream of creating a scholarship in his name.

The Gazette is hoping to print full lists of scholarship winners at Craig and Parker high schools on Thursday.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook

Last updated: 8:24 am Monday, July 29, 2013

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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