A memorial scholarship fund has been established for a young 22-year-old man who passed away in May to help residents and nonresidents accomplish their goal of becoming a firefighter, paramedic or emergency medical technician.
On May 18, Bradley Stokes, a Bokeelia resident, died in a motorcycle accident on Stringfellow Road.
In order to keep his memory alive, Rebecca Stokes, his mother, started working on the Bradley David Stokes Jr. Memorial Scholarship. The first scholarship will be given away on Bradley's birthday, July 24.
Rebecca Stokes set up a scholarship fund — the Bradley David Stokes Jr. Memorial Fund — in her son’s name to honor his memory.
"Friends and family wanted to come together and put something together for Bradley and his memory," she said.
The scholarship fund was set up at Stonegate Bank.
"It is an honor to have the account in his memory," Stonegate Bank Vice President Elsie Stearns said.
Stearns worked with Rebecca at Winn-Dixie 28 years ago where they became and remained very close friends throughout the years.
"I occasionally would watch Bradley when he was a little boy," she said. "Through my affiliation with the Fire Department, I would often see Bradley there. He loved the Pine Island Fire Department."
Bradley would volunteer at the Bobby Holloway Memorial Fishing Tournament every year as an Explorer, Stearns said, adding that he was a hard worker.
"It is sad that we now are memorializing him," she said. "He had an infectious smile that we will never forget and he loved his mother and Pine Island!"
Bradley, a sixth generation islander, had a passion for becoming a firefighter, which started when he was 3 years old.
"That was his goal in life," his mother said.
When he was 14 years old he began going to the Pine Island Fire Department, Rebecca said, to participate in the Fire Explorer program. She said he would do training, field trips and work around the island.
Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Deputy Chief Joe Marzella said Bradley began working with the department in March 2005 as a Fire Explorer. He said he was trained with the firefighters and participated in any aspect a teenager could to learn about firefighting.
"He was a leader, a natural leader," Marzella said. "Very strong headed. When he had a goal in mind, he went for that, very ambitious."
With his experience from the Explorer program Bradley decided to go to the Fort Myers Fire Academy in 2008 after he graduated from Mariner High School in 2007 to pursue that passion. Bradley also received his certificate as an EMT from Edison State College in 2009 when he was 19.
"After that he was then able to be a volunteer at the fire department," Rebecca said.
Unfortunately, when he graduated from Edison State College it was during the time when the county began laying off all of the firefighters, she said.
Due to the difficulty of obtaining a job, Bradley decided to join the United States Air Force, which took a year to enlist, in December 2011. Rebecca said he graduated from basic training in February of this year in San Antonio. He received a certification in security forces to become military police for the Air Force.
"Bradley really loved the fire department, even after he got out of the Air Force he still wanted to pursue being a firefighter," Rebecca said.
The accident that took his life occurred when Bradley was on leave from the Air Force in May.
Rebecca said she wanted his passion for becoming a firefighter to live on, which is why she decided to set up the scholarship fund.
"The scholarship is to basically help out a kid each year to go into the fire academy or paramedic or EMT," she said.
Marzella and Fire Chief David Bradley were given the responsibility to choose one individual each year who is deserving of the scholarship and needs funding to pursue a career in any of those three areas.
"This is wonderful," Marzella said about the scholarship fund. "Brad used to tell me about the money his mom saved up for his education. I think it is wonderful that Ms. Becky is going to continue with this scholarship. It is a wonderful thing."
He said although they will be looking towards Pine Island residents for the scholarship, the recipient does not have to be a resident. The criteria, Marzella said, is for someone who is interested in the fire service and wants to continue their education in that field.
Rebecca's hope is that each year they will hold a little ceremony, so the money can be presented to the individual.
The goal is to ultimately have the opportunity to give away more money to the recipient of the scholarship every year - with the possibility of paying for the whole program, depending on how everything evolves.
"If we can collect additional funds throughout the year through donations or events, maybe we can help the person even more with funding," Rebecca said.
Her son, she explained, was very determined. Rebecca said he achieved the majority of the goals he set for himself.
"He was pretty happy-go-lucky person," she said. "He wore his heart on his sleeve, for sure."