Effingham and Mattoon Community Foundation Executive Director Joedy Hightower, left, and Foundation member Gayla McDaniel presents a plaque to Marcus Miller, the 2008 Arland D. Williams Jr. Scholarship recipient.
Marcus Miller knows where he’s headed, and the Arland D. Williams Jr. Scholarship will help him get there.
The University of Illinois senior from Mattoon was named the 24th recipient of the award that honors the man who gave his life to save others during an air tragedy 26 years ago broadcast on television across the country.
Miller plans to complete his accounting studies at Champaign-Urbana and then do graduate work to become a certified public accountant. The MHS graduate is the son of Tony and Julie Miller.
“This summer I will be working at John Deere in Moline. I’m very grateful to get this scholarship,” said Miller after Friday’s scholarship luncheon at the Holiday Inn Express. “My parents were very happy when they knew I won it. They said I was very deserving.”
There is some symmetry in the career path because Williams, a graduate of Mattoon High School more than 50 years ago, was a bank examiner and a passenger on an Air Florida airliner during a January 1982 afternoon. The airliner had excessive ice on its wings during a snowstorm and moments after takeoff crashed into a bridge before plunging into the Potomac River in Washington.
Williams was among a handful of survivors who clung to plane wreckage in the ice-clogged river as they waited for a lifeline from a lone rescue helicopter. Williams passed the lifeline to the other survivors several times.
When the chopper came back for him, after the others all had been rescued, Williams had succumbed to the freezing waters and drowned.
“I was amazed at how selfless he was. He must have known he was going to die. His faith in God is something to be admired,’ said Miller after receiving a plaque and a $3,000 check from the scholarship fund administered by Mattoon Area Community Foundation through a trust with The First National Bank of Mattoon.
Miller said he learned Williams showed the right virtues throughout his life.
“From everything I’ve learned about him he was a man of great integrity. He was a family guy and very close to his mother. He was an all-around good person,” Miller said.
Gayla McDaniel, a Foundation member, said it is getting harder to pick the scholarship winner each year. The scholarship is based on academics and activities as well as recommendations and and essay written by the nominees.
Since 1985, $54,000 in scholarship grants have been awarded to 24 recipients. The fund was started in 1983 by Virginia Williams, mother of Arland Williams.
The luncheon was attended by several former classmates and friends of Williams. They helped pass on the Williams legacy to the scholarship winners.
Photo and story provided by Herb Meeker, Journal Gazette & Times-Courier