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Honoring a fallen patrolman

Six students receive 2018 Officer Harold L. Vitale Memorial Fund Scholarships

By Mark E. Vogler

 

  For more than two decades now, the second or third weekend in June – usually close to Father’s Day – has been a special time of reflection and hope for the family, relatives and friends of the late Saugus Police Officer Harold L. Vitale.

They gather in a park named in his honor, Officer Vitale Memorial Park on Ballard Street in Saugus, on a Saturday — sandwiched in between his birthday (June 14) and the anniversary of his tragic death in the line of duty (June 18) — to honor him with the memories which have grown precious with the passage of time.

But it’s not just a day of remembrance for the slain officer who pulled over a 19-year-old driver for blowing through a stop sign and then was dragged more than 1,000 feet to his death. Or pondering of what might have been had the teen not sped off when Vitale tried to arrest him after a background check revealed he was wanted on other outstanding motor vehicle charges.

The hope and the highlight of the day for the Vitale family is the presentation of scholarships to several students from Saugus, Revere — where Vitale still has family roots — and other area communities.

Last Saturday — on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of late Saugus patrolman’s death — the Officer Harold L Vitale Memorial Fund awarded six $1,000 scholarships to six local high school students from Saugus, Revere, Wakefield, and Winthrop at a reception in the park.

“For our family to have the honor of coming to the beautiful park named after Harold for over 20 years and remember him for how he lived, not how he died is very satisfying for us,” said Les Vitale, one of Harold’s brothers and President of the Memorial Fund.

“To enjoy this day with these kids and their families on the eve of Father’s Day is really special,” Les Vitale said

“His premature death meant he missed a lot, like his own children’s graduations, marriages and the birth of his grandchildren, but we carry on for him,” he said.

Last Saturday marked the 24th consecutive year the Fund has granted scholarships.

Les Vitale said his family is “extremely grateful,” considering that few organizations are fortunate enough to host events like this for more than 20 years. Officer Vitale would have turned 75 on June 14.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Ricardo Alberto Martinez-Moretta, of Saugus High School.
  • Twin sisters MacKenzie Lee Cunningham and Madison Lyn Cunningham, both of Revere High School.
  • Jack Wayne Elam, of Revere High School.
  • Samuel Matthew Zichella, of Winthrop High School.
  • Michael Chankhour, of Wakefield High School

 

A fund that keeps helping students

When the fund formed in 1992. Two years later, the Vitale family began awarding scholarships. They gave out two scholarships of $250 apiece in the first year.

Over the years, the number of awards and dollars have grown — to six or seven scholarships of $1,000 apiece.

Over the past 24 years, the fund has awarded close to 130 totaling more than $130,000, according to the family.

“The Vitale Memorial Fund has been wildly successful and has exceeded our expectations,” Les Vitale said.

“Given the rising cost of tuition and with the struggling the economy, families are suffering and searching to find ways to pay for college, we’re happy to play a small part in reducing that burden,” he said.

“In addition, each year we award grants to multiple youth advocacy organizations; The National Office of COPS, N.E. Chapter of COPS, the Boys and Girls Clubs and several other community organizations.  During our history, we have provided over $650,000 in grants,” he said.

Eileen Vitale, the wife of the late officer, looks upon the memorial fund set up in honor of her husband as a way to show her gratitude and the family’s appreciation for the help and support she received soon after her husband’s tragic death.

“It’s a great, proud way to keep Harold’s memory alive,” Mrs. Vitale said.

“We’re also able to continue our support of victim advocate organizations who reached out to help us back in 1985. Organizations like the National C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) the N.E. Chapter C.O.P.S. and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) receive financial support from us each year,” the widow said.

“This year we made a special gift to them to cover the cost of having Sgt. Sean Gannon’s name inscribed on the Memorial walls. Doing that is really important to us and we continue to make an impact,” she said.

Yarmouth Officer Gannon — who was promoted to sergeant posthumously — was the latest Massachusetts police officer killed in the line of duty. Gannon and his K-9 partner, Nero, were shot on April 12 while police were serving an arrest warrant at a Marstons Mills home on Cape Cod.

Gannon, an eight year veteran on his department, was shot in the head and later died of his wounds. Nero got shot in the face and neck and is recovering after emergency surgery.

Thomas Latanowich, 29, was charged with murder. Police had gone to the house to arrest him for violating his probation from a 2009 case involving multiple firearms charges.

A week and a half before the shooting, Latanowich had fled from a state trooper who had tried to pull him over near the Chelsea-Revere line, according to police.

 

About this year’s winners

A key part of the scholarship ceremony is when it’s revealed why the student was selected. They’re usually the child of a parent in law enforcement or share a personal connection to the Vitale family.

Here’s what Les Vitale had to say about the 2018 Vitale Scholarship winners:

  Ricardo “Ricky” Martinez-Moretta, Saugus High School.

“One of the top students in his class, Ricky was Student of the Month, an accomplished athlete and student. His achievements include Captain of the Football team. He was named an MVP,  All conference team. He also played on the baseball and lacrosse teams. He’s a member of National Honor Society. He plans on pursuing a career in accounting (Bryant University).

“His recommendations from school officials really stood out.  After we notified Saugus High he was selected, it caused on official to write back…. ‘This is wonderful news!!! Ricky is awesome! Thank you!’ ”

  Samuel Zichella, Winthrop High School.

“Sam’s dad Matt is a member of the Saugus Police Department.”

“A highly ranked student, Sam’s accomplishments include Mass. Educational Theater Guild All Star Award. He’s an Executive Board member of the WHS Drama society, recipient of a Student of the Term Award and has been accepted into the Commonwealth Honors Program at Salem State.  He will be pursuing his undergrad and graduate degree in English and plans to achieve his Mass. Teaching licenses.

  Jack Elam, Revere High School

“Jack’s family share a special relationship with the Vitale family.  His grandfather Ron was one of the founding members of the Vitale Memorial Fund and was one of Harold’s best friends since High School.  Ron and Harold worked together in various businesses for many years before Harold became a police officer.

“Jack a very active student at Revere High and was involved in many club activities at the school including the e-sports club and the Mentorship Program.  Jack is considering UMaine, Becker College and UMass Dartmouth.”

  Mackenzie Lee and Madison Lyn Cunningham, Revere High School

“This year we have our first ever set of twins receiving our Scholarship.  What makes these scholarships even more rewarding is that these two bright and talented young girls are the granddaughters to long-time family friends of our family.  Their grandparents were next door neighbors to the Vitale family for many years.

“Dick, Russell, Gene and Ron Segee were neighbors, classmates of several of my brothers and sisters including my brother Harold.  In addition, one of Dick’s other grandson’s, Keith, was a prior Vitale Memorial Scholarship recipient and has the distinction of being a Mass State Police Officer and is a frequent back up practice goalie to the Boston Bruins!!

“When we saw the girls applications and their credentials for both of these girls our decision was an easy one.  We are pleased to award our final two scholarships to the Cunningham sisters.

“Both of these girls are talented students and athletes.  Member of the National Honor Society and AP Scholars with Honors and competed in Basketball, Softball and Soccer and both held positions in Student Government.  I believe both girls are heading off to UMass Lowell in the fall where they will look to major in Mathematics.”

  Michael Chankhour, Wakefield High School

“Michael’s older sister Alyssa was a past recipient of one of our scholarships.  An accomplished athlete, Michael’s passion is soccer and is also a member of the Student Council.  He will be pursuing his passion and hoping to become a Civil Engineer and attend Merrimack College in the Fall.

“We suspect that his mechanically oriented passion comes from his dad Tony, who along with his wife Janet are long time family friends.  It is no secret that one of Harold’s passions was auto mechanics. Harold was our family mechanic and also was known to repair the vehicles in his “spare time” for many of his co-workers vehicles along with many of the storekeepers in Saugus.

  Editor’s Note: The Officer Vitale Memorial Fund, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization and was created in 1992 some 7 years after Officer Vitale’s death. Officer Vitale was killed in the line of duty in the early morning hours of June 18, 1985 while attempting to make an arrest when he was dragged over 1000 feet to his death. Officer Vitale was 42 at the time and married to his wife Eileen where he lived in Ipswich with 3 children, Paul, Michelle and JacLyn. Officer Vitale’s badge # 17 was retired upon his death. The Officer Vitale Memorial Park was constructed by the Town of Saugus in 1992 in his honor.

  The Memorial Fund will be hosting its annual Golf Tournament on Monday August 6, 2018 at Ipswich Country Club at noon. Information submitted by Les Vitale, President Officer Harold L. Vitale Memorial Fund, Inc. c/o Caputo & Co, CPA’s 99 Conifer Hill Dr. Suite 202 Danvers, MA 01923 or visit on the web atwww.vitalememorialfund.org

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