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Vets at California University of Pa. help widow carry on in school

Mary Pickels

Soon after Gold Star widow Jacquelyn Syverson began graduate school last summer, she visited the Arlington National Cemetery grave site of her husband, Maj. Paul Syverson III.

Syverson, 32, was killed by an insurgent in Iraq on June 16, 2004, while serving with the Army Special Forces. He was suppose to come home the following month.

His wife, a critical-care nurse, had taken time out from her career to raise their children, Paul IV, 13, and Amy, 6.

After deciding last year to enter graduate school, she continued to have doubts.

“It was such a big expense, and time away from the kids,” Syverson said.

Within hours of that visit, Syverson, 35, heard from Robert L. Prah Jr., veterans affairs director at California University of Pennsylvania.

Prah informed her that the university’s Veterans Club had collected $1,000 in donations for her education during a road trip that included stops at seven American Legion halls.

The fundraising continues tonight, with a 9 o’clock benefit concert by Pittsburgh country rock band Steeltown at Charleroi American Legion Post 22. The concert is open to the public, and all donations will go to Syverson, Prah said.

Syverson, a resident of Carlisle in Cumberland County, is pursuing a master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion through Cal U’s Global Online program.

Although she receives surviving spouse education benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, it does not cover all of her expenses, Syverson said. She contacted Prah to see if any additional funding might be available.

Prah and club members Joshua Furlong, Chris Gray, Josh Hager, Mike Lukas and Robert Marrone attended the Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State University-California game over Labor Day weekend.

“We were talking about going to see the game, and one of the club members asked if there was anyone we could raise money for,” Prah said. “I said absolutely.”

Because it was a last-minute effort, rather than ask club officers to vote on making a donation, the group decided to simply visit posts along the way and accept individual contributions.

“We didn’t tell her until all was said and done,” Prah said.

During her first visit to the Washington County campus for a Veterans Day luncheon, Syverson was surprised with the donation.

“It was so nice to go there and meet everybody and see the school,” she said yesterday.

Syverson said she was thrilled to find such strong support for veterans.

“What a great group of people. They are awesome. That was huge,” she said.

Family and Thanksgiving holiday commitments will keep Syverson from attending tonight’s concert. “I really appreciate it. It means so much to me. I wish I could go,” she said.

Recalling that day at the cemetery, Syverson said losing her husband meant losing her biggest supporter.

“I didn’t have the cheerleader saying, ‘Good going, way to go,'” she said.

But Syverson said her husband would have been behind her decision to continue her education.

“He would be proud,” she said.

(Donations, with the name Syverson in the check memo line, may be sent to S.A.I.-Cal Vets Club, 250 University Ave., Box 84, California PA 15419.)


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