By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The thrill of speed killed young Ben Ferchau to the devastation of his family and friends. Yet, the thrill seeker is still living through a decade of students benefiting from a scholarship given in his memory. In its tenth year, the Stillwater NewsPress Ben Ferchau Memorial Fund Tuition Scholarship is awarded annually to a student who is a current or former Stillwater NewsPress carrier. The 2013 application deadline is Friday.
Application forms are available from high school counselors or Tommy Dowdy, Stillwater NewsPress circulation director, at the newspaper offices, 211 W. Ninth Ave. Those entering military service may still apply for the scholarship and use the funds when they are discharged. Completing the forms requires applicants to describe how being a newspaper carrier has helped them. Applications must be returned by 5 p.m. Friday to the school counselor’s office or the NewsPress office.
The Stillwater NewsPress Ben Ferchau Tuition Scholarship was first awarded in 2003 in memory of the 15-year-old who died Oct. 14, 2001. Several students have graduated from college and accomplished some unusual things. Ben’s mother Evelyn Ferchau said he could often be found doing unusual activities — he seemed fearless and took chances.
“He watered the lawn from the roof and used his sling shot to shoot marbles at a pecan tree for nuts,” Ferchau said.
He accepted Christ as his personal savior at the age of 4 and loved going to church, she said. Ben was also busy with his newspaper route, school clubs, band, orchestra, scouts, baseball — all done with a stunning smile that was his trademark — earning him the nickname “Sunshine.”
His mother said Ben was always eager for any challenge but a dare one night to drag race in a friend’s car proved to be a fatal risk. Ben’s friend lost control of his car on a country road, hit a pile of dirt left from recent construction, flew over a ditch and crashed in a tree on Ben’s side of the car — then flipped upside down unto a pile of steel girders. Ben was killed instantly from a broken neck but was trapped in the car for about 45 minutes.
More than 500 mourners attended Ben’s funeral and it was difficult to comprehend the senselessness of it all. Ben’s mother encourages parents to talk to their teenagers about driving too fast. Out of all the teenagers who die in auto accidents, approximately 30 percent are speed racing-related deaths, she said.
“But we’re not talking about dry statistics, we’re talking about someone’s babies. They had futures, they were real people — and just like your teenager, they never thought it would happen to them,” Ferchau said.
While educating your child about safe driving, it’s also wise to instruct them about being a safe passenger, especially when their friends may be taking too many risky chances, she said.
The Ferchau family finds joy in presenting the newspaper carrier scholarship each year. The family also donates to a band scholarship in Ben’s memory.
Many of the newspaper carrier scholarship winners continue with the adventurous life Ben sought. The first winner in 2003, Cassie Raney, had a paper route for more than two years.
She used the scholarship funds to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007. Raney continues to live in San Francisco and works as a film production assistant on the television show, “Myth Busters.”
Other scholarship winners have sought careers in helping professions with Kyle Beal studying to be a minister and Josh Norton a police officer, Ferchau said. More adventures are in store for the 2007 scholarship recipient, DeEtta Cravens who graduated from Oklahoma City University in 2011, served as a Boren International Scholar in Brazil and now is in the Fulbright program at Chiang Mai, Thailand. Cravens is Raney’s sister and she threw newspapers for more than three years.
Their mother, Renee Raney-Cravens said having a newspaper route taught the girls responsibility and a lot about customer service.
“They had to manage accounts and collect from customers – and keep their customers satisfied if they had wet papers or missing papers,” said Raney-Cravens. “Working to deliver the NewsPress taught them about commitment and doing a job everyday – and sticking to it.”
Raney-Cravens’ daughters’ hard work translated to winning the newspaper carrier scholarship and using it to help finance their educations before seeking more adventures throughout the world.
“The memory of Ben’s life living on with joy and enthusiasm keeps us going until we see him again,” Ferchau said.
The Ferchau family is always trying to increase the endowment for the scholarship and will host a yard sale 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 25 at 226 S. Benjamin. Call Ferchau at 405-880-0865 if you are interested in donating.