When two members of the Olean High School Class of 1995 passed away tragically, the rest of the class was left reeling and racking their brains for a way to support their classmates’ families through the loss.
Classmates Ben Liteer and Shane Richner passed away unexpectedly within a year and a half of each other in 2011 and 2012.
Ahead of their 20th reunion in 2014, the class members decided collectively to establish a scholarship fund that would be able to memorialize deceased classmates, starting with Ben and Shane, and provide a scholarship opportunity to any deceased classmates’ children.
“One of our 20th reunion committee members, Jessica, suggested [the scholarship fund] but we didn’t quite know how to go about doing this,” said Scott Whiteman a fund advisor for the scholarship. “That’s where our classmate, attorney Jeff Reisner, stepped in to help create the initial fund.”
Reisner, who is also a Cattaraugus Region community Foundation board member, helped to organize the donations and this year the class decided to formally establish the scholarship at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation.
And so the Olean High School Class of 1995 Scholarship Fund will provide an annual $500 scholarship, with first preference for an applicant that is the child of a deceased member of the class. Second preference will be for any applicant graduating from OHS in good academic standing who demonstrates major financial need and is active in community service and extracurricular activities.
For Jessica Ray, who planted the initial idea, the scholarship fund is the next step in making the scholarship a long-term source of support for OHS students.
“It was after Shane passed away that I suggested to our class Facebook group that we do this,” said Jessica Ray, who came up with the initial idea for the scholarship. “Ben had passed away a short time before that, and I wasn’t aware until some time after the fact because he had a smaller circle of friends in high school, but he has an amazing story. So I felt in my heart that we should do this.
“When were in high school he actually met his life partner, as it turned out,” Ray added. , “It was true love when it came to Ben and Jen. They were high school sweethearts until the end.”
“But he was just a brilliant guy. He could have done anything, and I have complete confidence that Ben was living his life doing exactly what he wanted to do,” said Ray.
Richner had been a close friend of Ray’s in their time growing up in Olean, so, she said, the loss of both in a short time struck her.
Then, with the help of her classmates, the scholarship fund came to life.
“Honestly, I had the idea, but everyone in the class did the work,” she said. “Our other classmates have been a real driving force behind getting this off the ground. Everyone is contributing and helping out, and that makes this even more special.”
Donations can be made to the Olean High School Class of 1995 Scholarship Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union Street, Suite 203, or online at cattfoundation.org.
Established in 1994, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in the region. Grants from the foundation support many areas, including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service, and youth development. To learn more, call (716) 301-CRCF (2723), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit online at www.cattfoundation.org. CRCF is also on Facebook (facebook.com/cattfoundation) and Twitter (@CattFoundation).