Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation memorial scholarships honor loved ones and help reduce studen

The Steven Pietila Memorial Scholarship fund awards two exceptional Deer River students with $4,500

The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation administers approximately 100 different scholarships, many of which are memorial scholarships. “It is a wonderful way to honor someone’s legacy and help local students reduce student debt,” says Sarah Copeland, Community Foundation Director of Grants and Programs.

Steven Pietila was a 1994 graduate of Deer River High School. A high achiever in academics, service and athletics, he valued family, friends and his community. Steven was proud of the education and the opportunities he received while a member of the Deer River community.

Steven was diagnosed with oral cancer in July of 2001. During the following seventeen months, Steven endured many difficult treatments. Although Steven ultimately lost his battle with cancer on December 15, 2002, he was an ultimate survivor. His faith and loving spirit only grew stronger through his journey. Steven’s family has provided a lasting legacy to honor him by awarding memorial scholarships in his name to graduating Deer River High School students who best represent his character, values, and achievements.

Application requirements

The applicant must be a graduating senior from Deer River High School, with a GPA of 3.25 or above, and who will attend college or technical institute. In addition, the applicant’s record for the previous calendar year must be free from suspension from school/extra-curricular activities and any criminal activity. The Steven Pietila Memorial Scholarship is awarded on the basis of scholastic achievement, student initiative, exceptional extra-curricular and community activities, work experience and strong moral character.

Deer River high school teachers recommend Ashely Drotts for the memorial scholarship

“…Ashley Drotts has become a confident, articulate, intelligent woman who has worked to be the Salutatorian. She holds herself to a high standard and "good enough" isn't sufficient. She is a thoughtful speaker who has earned the respect of her peers and the staff. I wholeheartedly recommend her for your scholarship, not only will she benefit greatly, but our community will benefit as well,” says Deer River High School teacher, Matt Carlstrom.

“This student does not shy away from challenging work. Through the last two years, she has taken several of the College in the Schools courses that I teach. As a dedicated student, she is conscientious; ‘game’ to participate in discussions and other group activities, always present in mind and body, and is an excellent role model. She knows the value of education and puts her all into her work,” says Polly Sheppard, Deer River High School Teacher, in her scholarship recommendation.

Ashley’s Story

At a young age, the hospital became a familiar place that Ashley Drotts often frequented, and cancer became a familiar word in her vocabulary. At the time, she did not realize her time spent in the oncology ward with her best friend and grandfather would shape her life forever. It was only later she would make the realization that her dreams of helping others stemmed from a time when she felt hopeless. The idea of helping others get through such an unfortunate time in their lives, as well as their families, is what drives Ashley to further her education and become a nurse. Helping others has always been important to Ashley and is her main goal in life. Ashley is aware that the only way to achieve her goals is through commitment and dedication to schooling and education. “My education has been extremely important to me and learning is one of my first loves. I plan to continue this commitment to my education so I will be able to achieve my dreams,” says Ashley.

Ashley writes about Community Service in her scholarship application

“In order to have an outstanding community, volunteering is essential. I have learned so much about myself and the amazing people in my community that are working to make it better. I hope to be a community member students can look up to. Volunteering in your community means helping others, by doing things like volunteering at the local food shelf to help make sure no one in your community goes hungry. At the food shelf I learned just how many people in my community rely on it, and how important volunteers are. Another way to help others is working at the local Community Cafe where I helped wash dishes and serve food. I learned that not everyone in my community has appropriate access to food, a basic human need. Another part of community involvement is improving the environment within our community by doing things such as roadside clean up and sidewalk pick up. As a result of being involved, I have learned how to be a caring and active member of my community. I also found that volunteering within the community has ripple effects on others and creates a giving community. One individual can always make a change in any community. That is precisely what I plan to do within my community for the rest of my life.”

School Sports and Activities

Ashley also discussed in her application her experiences with school sports and activities. She writes, “At a young age, I began participating in sports such as basketball, volleyball, and softball and developed relationships with teammates, coaches, fans, and referees. I learned attributes such as leadership, respect, and commitment. Also through the National Honors Society and Student Government, I learned how to be organized, lead group work, take responsibility, plan events, present ideas, and how to be an active volunteer in my community. Overall, I believe sports and activities have shaped me into a well-rounded individual. I was also shown what the true meaning of an amazing community is, one that supports win or lose, fosters volunteerism, comes together for the common good, and most importantly cares for and loves those within it.”

“It’s great to hear young women express excitement about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math),” says Copeland . Ashley shares her enthusiasm for STEM, “I think everything about STEM is exciting, but what I love most is how diverse it is. It includes mechanical engineering, microbiology, and more. Even more exciting is that the demand for STEM majors is rising. I took an interest in STEM at a young age, and joined the Math Team in sixth grade, and in ninth grade joined our high school's robotics team. While involved with the robotics team I learned how to code, wire, and build a robot. I participated in our local community college’s Engineering Days for two years, where I continued to expand my knowledge in STEM. Last year I took college courses to become a certified nursing assistant, where I was introduced to another aspect of STEM. Although I am intrigued by all the facets of STEM, I plan to follow my passion for the sciences and further my nursing education and hope to obtain my Bachelor in the Science of Nursing, and then a Doctor of Nurse Practicing.” Ashley is headed out to North Dakota State University and the Steven Pietila Memorial Scholarship, through the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation, will provide her with $4,500. “We are excited for Ashley and wish her the best of luck in her educational endeavors,” says Copeland.

Garrett Schjenken – inspired to teach

“I have had the privilege to watch Garrett develop into an exceptionally respectful and trustworthy young man. During many sincere conversations at school and around the campfire, I have always encouraged him to become a teacher. His innate compassion for others will draw the absolute best from his students. When Garrett recently chose to become a teacher of students with special needs, his face was beaming! There is no obstacle too big that will keep him from becoming a teacher,” says Lynn Smith-Evans, Deer River High School Teacher, in her recommendation for Garrett.

Garrett tells his story

“I have always been a hard worker at everything I do. I truly believe I have learned this through my parents. They taught me to never quit at whatever I do in life, and do it 100%! This has carried over to my athletic and academic goals I set for myself in high school. One of my main goals through high school was to attend a four-year university in special education and be a collegiate athlete. Special education has always been a calling for me since I was young. Connecting with special needs kids is fulfilling, and I can make them happy and encourage them to be themselves!”

“In high school I learned how to overcome obstacles and different situations in my life. For example, taking tests has never been one of my strengths so I had to learn how to study and ask for help to succeed. Along the way I have had some injuries during my sports seasons, but through hard work and focus I am now signed to Moorhead State University to compete in men's track. As you can see, I have reached these goals and I'm ready for the next step in creating new goals for myself.”

Community Involvement

“Reading Garrett’s scholarship application was impressive. He definitely represents the community involvement and commitment shown by Steven Pietila,” says Copeland. Garrett spent the first hour of every school day volunteering in the special education room helping special education teachers and paraprofessionals. “I work with the kids on communication, cooking, sign language, creating relationships, and social skills,” says Garrett.

On Wednesdays during basketball practice, Garrett worked with a boy who has Down syndrome. The boy decided to play basketball during Garrett’s senior year, and so Garrett asked his coach if he could work one-on-one with him. “It was an amazing experience for me,” notes Garrett.

Last fall, Garrett volunteered to coach third and fourth grade boys/girls flag football. Garrett was approached by a couple of teachers and parents to help and he thought it would be a great experience to work with that age since Garrett knew he was going into the education field.

Through the Movement Program (drug and alcohol prevention in the school) Garrett mentored the sixth grade class about choosing to be substance-free and how to make good choices. “Garrett’s involvement in community doesn’t end there,” says Copeland. “Last year, Garrett went on a mission trip for one week to the Dominican Republic to install water filters for 28 families and work at an orphanage with Youth for Christ.” That experience taught him how much of the world is in need and suffering. “It made me realize how lucky we are to live here,” notes Garrett.

Garrett also worked at his church. “Our church is small so it requires all of us to help out,” says Garrett. He worked on the building of a new addition, helped with cleaning and with Sunday School, and put on programs with the younger kids.

Giving Back to Community

Garrett expresses his thoughts about giving back to community in this way, “I believe everyone should volunteer in their community because it shows respect and strength in your community. I've watched my mom and dad volunteer for years to help make our community a great place and the difference it has made to people and organizations. Through volunteering, I have learned a lot! For example, how to care for others and how to take care of the community I grew up in. I've been lucky to see people's appreciation for the help and the positive change that happens when you care enough to give your time and energy to others in need.”

Garrett is off to Minnesota State University in Moorhead with $4,500 from the Steven Pietila Memorial Scholarship and $1,000 from the Brad Smith Memorial Scholarship, both through the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation.

The Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation administers approximately 100 different scholarships, many of which are memorial scholarships. Anyone can donate to an existing scholarship at the Community Foundation. Providing birthday, anniversary or other gifts to an existing memorial scholarship fund appreciates someone’s legacy, and helps local students eliminate the burden of student debt. If you are interested in giving to a scholarship, call the Community Foundation at (218) 999-9100 or visit our website at:

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350 NW 1st Ave, Suite E  | Grand Rapids, MN 55744  |  218-999-9100

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