Chris Wente accepts a plaque as the 2009 Arland D. Williams Scholarship winner Friday from Gayla McDaniel while, from far left, Mattoon Area Community Foundation
program director Amanda Standerfer and scholarship committee members Peggy Fuesting and Tim Gover look on.
Almost everyone was looking up to the 2009 Arland D. Williams Jr. scholarship winner Chris Wente during a luncheon Friday.
And it was not just because of his height, either. It had a lot to do with his accomplishments and character.
The tall accounting major from the University of Kentucky has earned a near-perfect cumulative grade point average — 3.961 on a 4.0 scale — through his junior year, assisted with orientation and provided community service in the university community of Lexington, Ky.
“It’s evident that our recipient not only tries but he does, too,” said Gayla McDaniel of Citizens National Bank and presenter of the award. The scholarship provides a $2,000 monetary award in honor of Williams, who sacrificed his life to save other passengers after a 1982 airliner crash.
Wente, educated at St. Mary School and Mattoon public schools, nearly a decade ago learned what Williams accomplished that freezing, snowy day on the Potomac River.
Williams, a Mattoon native, was one of a handful of people who came to the surface after the jetliner crashed into the ice off a Washington, D.C., bridge. Wente was amazed by how Williams passed on the lifeline from a rescue helicopter before he eventually sank below the surface.
“I was curious the first time I heard about him when they named the school for him,” said Wente.
Arland D. Williams Jr. Elementary School opened as a tribute to the bank examiner. Several other tributes had already come from the White House, the Coast Guard and his collegiate alma mater. For 25 years, Mattoon High School graduates have been honored with the scholarship designed to assist talented and community-dedicated students interested in business-related studies.
The essay he wrote as a nominee for the scholarship expressed his respect for Williams.
“I think he showed you don’t have to be the president, the pope or someone like that to make a difference in the world,” Wente said after the annual scholarship luncheon at Mattoon Country Club.
He will be seeking his master’s degree in accounting after his graduation next year from Kentucky. He said embodying the spirit of a man like Arland Williams provides more than just money and prestige.
“Once you give back to the community, the most rewarding part is to look back at what you’ve done for others. It makes you feel good inside,” Wente said.
Story and photo by Herb Meeker, Journal Gazette & Times-Courier