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Marne Spouses give $18,500 in scholarships
Marne Scholarships groupweb
High school students who earned Marne Community and Spouses' Club scholarships pose for a photo. BI senior Cole Coston, who earned the Rita Ackerman Scholarship, is second from the right. - photo by Photo by Jason Wermers

Continuing education:
• Whitley Thompson, $1,500, attends and will continue at Liberty University
• Chanelle Craig, $2,000, attends and will continue at Duke University
• Thomas Killough, $3,600, attends University of Hawaii, currently undecided on where he will continue
High-school seniors:
• Brittany Browne, $1,000, South Effingham High School, will attend Ogeechee Technical College
• Mary Squires, $1,300, home-schooled, will attend University of Alabama
• Hayden Eskridge, $1,500, Richmond Hill High School, will attend Auburn University
• Sarah Beth Mullins, $2,000, Richmond Hill, will attend Auburn
• Elizabeth Bentley, $2,000, Richmond Hill, will attend Alabama
Rita Ackerman Scholarship:
• Cole Coston, $3,600, Bradwell Institute, will attend University of Arkansas

2014-15 truly was a banner year for the Marne Community & Spouses’ Club, and several high-achieving students in military families will reap the benefits.

The club shattered its previous records thanks to two successful fundraising events — the Boil & Baskets Auction in November at Richmond Hill City Center and a golf scramble in April at Taylors Creek on Fort Stewart.

As a result, the club was able to give away $18,500 in scholarships to six high-school seniors and three who are continuing their education. The club gave away a total of more than $30,000 to the communities surrounding Fort Stewart.

Brig. Gen. James Blackburn, the deputy commanding general-maneuver for the 3rd Infantry Division, was the guest speaker during the scholarship awards ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Fort Stewart Museum. He said the integrity of the process to choose the scholarship recipients is “unchallengeable.”

“The fairness that goes into the scrutiny applied to each file is beyond comprehension — more than they should’ve done, frankly, because as this organization, they can do what they want,” he said. “They raised the money, but they went the extra mile to make sure that this couldn’t be challenged. So all of you should feel very good because you rose where you are and what you’re going to receive today because of your own merits, and what you have done, as noticed by this committee.”

Cole Coston, a Bradwell Institute senior, received the $3,600 Rita Ackerman Scholarship, the highest award given Sunday. Like many high-achieving high-school students, Coston knows what he wants to do, but he has a special motivation.

When he was in eighth grade, he had two titanium rods fused into his spine to correct a 46-degree-angle curve, the result of scoliosis. His sister has a similar procedure done. His mother also had corrective surgery for scoliosis when she was younger than he was.

“I will attend the University of Arkansas for premed and go to med school,” said Coston, who was the drum major for the BI Tiger Marching Band this past year. “I’d like to specialize in scoliosis. My mom, sister and I all had the surgery, so I’m very interested in that. My future plans are hopefully to work at a children’s hospital.”

He said his procedure was done at a Shriner’s hospital, and his mother’s at a children’s hospital in Arkansas.

“So definitely going through that and seeing what they gave to me, helping me overcome this, has really given me the desire to give back in that way,” Coston said.

Like many military children, Coston changed schools often as his parents were transferred. BI was his third high school, and he there for his junior and senior years.

He also attended schools in Virginia and Louisiana. Yet through all the upheaval, he maintained a 3.8 grade-point average and carried a rigorous load of academic courses, including Advanced Placement and honors classes.

He also was the Beta Club vice president and played drums in the youth group for his church, First Baptist Church of Richmond Hill.

“I just really focused on my academics, kept that a priority, maintaining high grades but also challenging myself in honors and AP courses,” he said. “It’s definitely tough to make new friends, but it helps out to make friends, fit in, get plugged in as fast as you can. That’s what my father always told me. It makes moving much easier when you get involved.”

Jane Murray, honor president of the Marne Community & Spouses’ Club, noted the struggles military children have with the frequent moves — “being that new kid on the block, trying to make a friend, eating alone in the cafeteria, trying to make that sports team, and make new friends and, most importantly, trying to succeed academically.”

Given all that, “We found your applications to be nothing short of amazing,” she said. “The process was a little difficult and challenging for our board members, but we are very excited for your future. We hope all your dreams come true, and we’d just like to say congratulations in advance.”

Blackburn agreed.

“The fact that they just do what they’re told and still turn out to be so great is fantastic,” he said of the scholarship recipients. “So with that, let’s please present the scholarships. Rock the Marne. Army strong.”

“Hooah!” came a response from the audience. And the scholarships were presented.

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