NEW WINDSOR – The Maj. Gen. Irene Trowell-Harris Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen hosted its 19th Annual Tuition Assistance Awards Dinner on Saturday, at Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor.
Chapter President Glendon Fraser was amazed at how fast the time has gone by. “When we started this 19 years ago, I had more hair and less fat around my belly,” he joked. He also noted that his own daughter was a child when they began, and she has since graduated from high school and college.
As he reflected through the years it became apparent as to how much of an impact these scholarships have had on the lives of the individuals who have received them. Since its inception in 1999, the group has awarded over $190,000 in scholarships to students throughout the Hudson Valley region.
This year 12 $1,000 scholarships were presented to seniors from area high schools. Each of them has lofty education goals that are matched with their determination to succeed. Adelson Aguasvivas, a Dominican Republic native, came to the United States at nine and could only speak Spanish. As a young boy, he recalls watching his parents struggle. “It gave me incredible motivation, a huge drive for success and ambition,” Aguasvivas said. Today he is ranked 6 out of his class of 693 at Newburgh Free Academy, and wants to study computer science in college.
Jennifer Sandoval intends to pursue a career in aviation. That is not surprising to those who know her. The Johns S. Burke Catholic High School senior is a member of the Tuskegee chapter’s Red Tail Youth Flying Program. She plans on attending Farmingdale State College on Long Island to study aeronautical science. She has overcome many obstacles since emigrating with her parents from Mexico, the least being her parents’ separation. “Everything I knew, my home, my parents, my childhood, was crumbling right in front of me,” she said. Through it all she found comfort in her idol Amelia Earhart. “She did what others told her she couldn’t do. I take this as motivation to prove that although I am a woman, a Mexican, I will be who I want to be: a pilot.”
As much as the evening was about the scholarship recipients, many in attendance were there to salute the Tuskegee Airmen and WWII veterans. Present this year were original Tuskegee Airmen Wilfred DeFour and “Coach” Roscoe Draper. B-17 navigator Harvey Horn was also in attendance, as was New York State Senator William Larkin.
“Coach” Draper was one of the 10 original flight instructors assigned to train the men who would become America’s only African American fighter and bomber pilots during World War II. Draper says he was turned down when he tried to enlist, but he didn’t give up. He joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program and became an instructor.
Draper would teach many pilots, including Lee Archer. Known as an “Ace,” Archer was part of the 332nd Fighter Pilots, on record as shooting down or damaging 409 enemy aircraft.
The local chapter also operates the Lt. Lee A. Archer Jr. Red Tail Youth Flying Program, which offers a free aviation ground school and flight training to competitively chosen area young people aged 13 to 17.
This year’s 12 scholarship recipients were: Adelson Aguasvivas (Newburgh free Academy); Tyjeer Carruthers (Newburgh Free Academy); Suetanya Euter (Newburgh Free Academy); Yamilet Gonzales (Newburgh Free Academy); Kristen Henry (Cornwall central High School);
Miracle James (Newburgh Free Academy); Alyssa Mast (New Paltz High School); Cesar Micklick (Valley Central High School); Bryson Nieves (Warwick Valley High School); Jonathan Perez (Newburgh Free Academy); Jennifer Sandoval (John S. Burke Catholic High School); and Alexander Wolf (Valley Central High School).