A young man will be attending the Fort Myers Fire Academy in January to fulfill his dream of becoming a firefighter thanks to a memorial fund that was recently established on Pine Island.
Brian Lally of Cape Coral was the first recipient of the Bradley David Stokes Jr. Memorial Scholarship Tuesday night, which would have marked Bradley's 23rd birthday.
On May 18, Bradley, a Bokeelia resident, died in a motorcycle accident on Stringfellow Road during his leave from the United States Air Force. He enlisted in December 2011.
Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Deputy Chief Joe Marzella, Bradley David Stokes Jr. Memorial Scholarship recipient Brian Lally, who is holding Bradley’s fire helmet, and Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Chief David Bradley.
The scholarship fund, which was established by Bradley's mother, Rebecca Stokes, came to fruition because she wanted her son's passion of becoming a firefighter to live on through others who share that same desire.
"I know Brad would be proud of what you are doing," Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Chief David Bradley said of Rebecca's efforts during the ceremony.
The interest of becoming a firefighter sparked at the age of 3 for Bradley, his family said. Due to that passion he joined the Fire Explorer program on the island in March 2005 and then enrolled at the Fort Myers Fire Academy in 2008 where he became a certified firefighter. The young man also received his certificate as an EMT from Edison State College in 2009.
A group of friends and family gathered at the Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Tuesday night for the presentation of the first Bradley David Stokes Jr. Memorial Scholarship to a young man who was in the Fire Explorer program with Bradley.
"I got just the man," Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Deputy Chief Joe Marzella said after information was shared about the Bradley David Stokes Jr. Memorial Scholarship. "He still wants to go to fire school."
Stonegate Bank Vice President Elsie Stearns announced Tuesday night that since Lally is the first recipient, he would be awarded a full scholarship for the fire academy.
"Very exciting," Lally said of the full scholarship, which he had no idea he was receiving.
"Everyone has high expectations," Stearns told him, adding that she hopes he keeps them updated with his progress.
After Lally was introduced, he shared a few comments to those who attended the special ceremony, which included memories of Bradley. He entered the Fire Explorer program in 2006.
A friendship was instantly made between the two teenagers who shared the same passion.
"We had a great time together," Lally said.
He instantly fell in love with the program and the thought of becoming a firefighter when he was introduced to the Fire Explorer program.
"Brad, he was really into it," Lally said. "He definitely pushed me."
He said he enjoyed meeting new people while he was a Fire Explorer. Lally said everyone was friendly and helpful during the program and they all wanted to see him succeed.
Lally, who grew up in Cape Coral and North Fort Myers, said he has always wanted to become a firefighter.
"Thank you for this opportunity," Lally said while looking at Rebecca. "I will do my best and become a firefighter in his name. I hope I become half the man that Bradley was."
He will start taking night and an all-day Saturday class at the academy in January.
The scholarship, Lally said, means a lot to him because he can finally make his dream of becoming a firefighter come true.
"Brad was a great person," he said. "I could not have made this possible without them. A great family."
Once the presentation was completed, stories where shared of when Bradley was in the Fire Explorer program, which brought laughter to the room. Rebecca was also given Bradley's fire helmet at the end of the ceremony, which brought tears to her eyes.
Each year Marzella and Chief Bradley will choose one individual who is deserving of the scholarship and needs funding to pursue a career as a firefighter, paramedic or EMT.