Los Banos veterans can benefit now from Merced College scholarships

The deadline for Merced College scholarships — March 29 — is fast approaching and three Los Banos Campus scholarships benefiting local veterans are particularly worth noting.

There are more than 100 scholarships available to students who attend Merced College (at the Merced or Los Banos campuses), all of which can be found by doing an internet search for “Merced College Scholarships” and then scrolling down and clicking “Booklet” under 2019-20 scholarship applications.

I encourage every current and prospective Merced College student to submit an application for a scholarship, but in particular I encourage all veterans living in Los Banos to apply for the three scholarships specifically designated for them — the American Legion James V. Pernetti Post 166 Scholarship, the Veterans of Foreign Wars LT Lawrence F. Muth Post 2487 Scholarship and the Spevak Family Scholarship.

From my experience, veterans benefit more from scholarships than the average student. In the 1970s and early 1980s I taught at the Los Banos campus of Merced College and had many veterans in my classes. They were among the students I appreciated most — men and women who were motivated to succeed and whose life stories were remarkable.

Many of them had recently returned from the Vietnam War and enrolled in college under the G.I. Bill. They had acquired in the military the kind of discipline that enables students to persevere and succeed — in class, in college and in life.

Many of those veteran students became successful in their careers and have been a great benefit to their community, such as retired Los Banos Police Chief Mike Hughes and former Los Banos City Councilman Gerald “Obie” O’Brien.

Years earlier I, too, as a veteran, benefited not only from the G.I. Bill but also from a scholarship my college gave me. At that time I had a wife and two young children. It was a challenge going to school, studying and keeping connected with my family. Those two funding sources combined didn’t result in creating a comfortable life, but they provided enough funds so I could make it through my course work.

Veterans returning from service often have challenges returning to civilian life. The skills the military provided them don’t always translate directly to careers. But the intangible skills of veterans, when coupled with the tangible skills and knowledge they acquire in college, can lead toward careers that provide a good income.

In recent years the scholarships designated for veterans attending the Los Banos campus have not drawn many applicants. One year the Los Banos veterans group had to search for vets already in college or thinking about college to urge them to apply. I hope this year will be different.

The three scholarships, each at $300, don’t involve big bucks; but they do provide encouragement and acknowledgement. They also provide a little extra for a textbook, a computer memory stick or maybe a few cups of coffee when other students gather to study or just talk about life.

Like many other Los Banos citizens, I admire and respect those members of our community who have served in the military. They have volunteered their time and sacrificed years of their lives to protect our country and each one of us. Some of them have left the military battered and bruised, in mind and body.

These scholarships serve as small tokens of appreciation and an opportunity to move forward with their lives. I encourage all veterans reading this, especially those who have recently been discharged from service, to apply.

A community college like Merced provides many pathways to success, whether by providing the first two years of a bachelor’s degree program or by awarding associate degrees and certificates, like the new fast-paced welding certificate now offered by the local campus.

For those who are not veterans reading this column, I hope you will spread the word and provide encouragement to any vet you may know. Filling out an application is relatively quick and easy (as it is for anyone applying for a scholarship), and it can yield cash dividends.

For more information about all Merced College scholarships, call the Los Banos campus at 209-826-3431 and ask to be transferred to the scholarship and financial aid office. For more information about veteran services at both campuses, call the college’s veteran support staff, 209-384-6161.

For additional help on a wide variety of issues, veterans can also drop by VFW Hall (615 E St.) every first and third Thursdays of the month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m to meet a veterans service officer, who can provide information about all services.

In addition, veterans can also use Veterans Resource Center at the Los Banos Public Library (1312 S. Seventh St.) anytime during regular library hours.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.