Grand Valley Landthorn
Rick Szczepanski did not grow up as most children did. While other kids in elementary school were playing outside with friends, Szczepanski was learning how to cook and clean to help out his family.
When Szczepanski was one year old, his mother, Mary, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s a disease that attacks the nervous system — breaking down the lining of nerves — causing difficulty with many different functions including vision, walking and holding things.
To help him heal and to keep his mother’s memory alive, Szczepanski created the Mary J. Szczepanski “Never Give Up” Scholarship three years ago.
It gives $500 to the students who raise the most money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at West Catholic, Catholic Central and Kenowa Hills high schools. Next fall, a similar scholarship will be offered at Grand Valley State University.
Although Szczepanski’s mother died eight years ago, he is still struggling against the disease. In 1990, Szczepanski’s wife—whose name is also Mary—was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I feel like this was supposed to happen to me,” he said. “To be an ambassador for MS makes me a better person. The things that are going to happen, happen.”
Szczepanski created the scholarship to get the knowledge of multiple sclerosis out there and to raise money for a cause so close to his heart.
He put up the $1,000 for the first year’s scholarships himself and still pays for each scholarship recipient’s plaque out of his own pocket. Now he holds fund-raisers and has five corporate sponsors to raise money for the scholarships.
Szczepanski’s scholarship gave GVSU student Mary Brechting the chance to raise money for something she cares about very deeply.
“My mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago,” she said. “From watching her struggle with this disease every day, my family and I have learned how serious MS really is. This was my main motivation in raising money for the Mary J. Sczepanski scholarship fund at my high school.”
Brechting raised $250 for multiple sclerosis during her senior year at West Catholic High School.
“It is an incredible feeling to know that you are helping so many people by raising money for such a wonderful cause,” she said. “I hope that the money I raised will help to research new preventative and progression-slowing medicines for people who suffer from MS. It is a great cause, and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to help in supporting it.”
Brechting said if the opportunity arose, she would love to help raise more money for multiple sclerosis.
She may get the chance when the scholarship comes to GVSU for the first
time in the fall.
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