Nikiski scholarship aims to saving lives, honor brother

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Sunday, May 29, 2016 7:43pm
  • News

In the first year of it’s revival, Shannon Bird hit her $10,000 fundraising goal for the Les Rappe Memorial Scholarships, which were created to honor the death of her brother Les Rappe, who died in a car accident July 14, 2008. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

She personally handed off $2,500 to four Nikiski High School students, TJ Cox, Nathan Carstens, Mikaila Colton, and Logan Griffel, Thursday, May 12, at the school’s annual Awards Night, despite acute anxiety from public speaking. Missing out on the chance to make an impact has become too hard to pass up.

“It’s bittersweet presenting these scholarships and sharing my brother’s story, but my hope is that it will make people think twice about not wearing a seat belt and save their loved ones from getting the dreaded call that I did,” Bird said before presenting the money. “This is definitely our family’s attempt to turn a negative into a positive and I beg each and every one of you before you make any choices that could be life changing, please know that you matter, your were not put here by mistake…”

For one recipient, the award highlighted his own experience of losing someone who had not been strapped in. When Cox was younger, he was told similar news about an old friend that Bird and her family heard about Rappe nearly eight years ago now.

“He flew out the windshield and he hit his head hard enough that he died,” Cox said. “We were probably around nine and his grandparents didn’t make sure that he was buckled. At the time I was obviously really sad. I can remember crying and I remember asking my parents why he wouldn’t be wearing a seat belt if that wasn’t safe.”

Learning at a young age about how essential buckling up is stuck with Cox.

“In a little 9-year-old’s brain (you learn) if you don’t put yourself belt on you might die,” he said.

Now, most of Cox’s friends strap on their seat belts automatically, which he said is impressive for high school students. Carstens, another recipient, reported the same. If someone tries to ride without a belt, other riders add some pressure until the metal clicks shut.

Cartsens said he had heard about Rappe’s death before listening to Bird talk about her experience on stage.

Staff at the Nikiski Senior Center, who originally started the scholarship in 2012, are the ones who make the final call on which students will be taking home the four scholarships, but Bird made sure she would get a chance to get the word out about her brother, who was soon to marry his fiance, had a good job and a son, Les Greysen Rappe Spoonts, on the way.

“As difficult as it was, I needed to get my point across and share the details of my brother’s accident,” she said. “I had a student come up to me and mention that it hit home about the seat belt comment. If I could get one student to think twice about not wearing their seat belt, and spare someone the dreaded phone call it’s worth telling his story.”

To raise the large sum of scholarship money, which goes to anyone interested in pursuing vocational technology in their post-high school academics, Bird held a 5-kilometer run in August, 2015, that raised $1,000 and the rest came from the community and family members, and anonymous donors.

“I did not go out in the community as planned, life happens, so next year, I hope to fundraise a lot more, and get the community more involved,” Bird said. “There are a lot of businesses, even though times are tough, would still like to give back to our kids.”

Carstens, who plans on joining the Airforce after finishing a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage, said he believes the money he is receiving in honor of Rappe will be well used.

Bird said she plans to keep the fundraising going as long as Nikiski High School students want to attend trade schools.

This year’s 5-kilometer run will be held Aug. 27. More than 80 community members turned out in the rain for last year’s event.

Toward the end of her speech during the award night she asked anyone related to Rappe to raise their hands, and 25 audience members responded.

“We will never be the same,” Bird said.” The Trooper later told our Mom that Les would’ve more than likely limped away with a broken leg, had he been wearing his seat belt. He left behind so many loved ones, including a son he was only six months shy away from meeting.”


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