ROCHESTER, N.Y.- Monroe Community College students Matthew Speer (Greece) and Cory Thayer (Webster) are the first recipients of the Lt. Michael J. Chiapperini and Tomasz M. Kaczowka Memorial Scholarship. Both recipients plan to pursue careers as first responders, following in the footsteps of Chiapperini and Kaczowka, an MCC alumnus and student respectively.
Speer, a fourth generation fire fighter, who volunteers for the North Greece Fire Department, says “tradition and history” are a big part of why he is pursuing firefighting as a career. “I’m extraordinarily honored and thankful,” said Speer on being named one of the first recipients. “I choose firefighting for the opportunity to help others in need … it’s like no other job.”
When Thayer considered the exciting professional challenges and the camaraderie of the Webster Fire Department, he was inspired to pursue firefighting as a career. “Lt. Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were too well loved to be forgotten,” said Thayer. “I am incredibly honored to be selected and to play a part in preserving their memories.”
The scholarship was launched earlier this year by Christine and Jim Wheeler (Naples, Fla., formerly of Webster) with the Monroe Community College Foundation to honor the memories of Chiapperini and Kaczowka—members of the West Webster Fire Department who lost their lives on December 24, 2012. “When we established the scholarship last winter, Jim, who is an MCC alumnus, and I wanted to create opportunities for those looking to pursue higher education in this field,” said Christine Wheeler. “We also wanted to remind people about the level of commitment and dedication it takes to be a first responder. We are grateful for the many people and organizations that helped us make this scholarship possible in honor of Chip and Tomasz.”
Nearly 40 individuals and groups from across the community joined the Wheelers and raised more than $40,000 to endow the scholarship. The Monroe County Fire Chiefs Association, led by President Mark Cholach, recently contributed $7,500 to help surpass the goal and endow the fund in perpetuity. Seven local CrossFit locations, led by CrossFit Park Ave, also held a fundraiser on December 21 that raised $4,300. As a result, two $1,000 scholarships will be awarded annually to students in MCC’s Fire Protection Technology program.
“Having served with Chip, I know this gift is the least we could do to preserve his legacy and pay it forward to future generations,” said Cholach who also serves as the fire training coordinator for the Monroe County Fire Bureau. “Together, with the Wheelers, our brothers at West Webster Fire Department, the Scardino family, and many across the community, we have created a scholarship that honors their service and sacrifice.”
“This very special scholarship fund ensures that our fallen heroes will not be forgotten and will inspire future firefighters to pursue their dreams for generations to come,” said Diane L. Shoger, executive director of the MCC Foundation. “This effort by individuals, families, and groups who knew and admired Chip and Tomasz has created a lasting legacy at the college. It is a fitting tribute for the whole community to remember all they did for us.”