A Cape man will attend the Fort Myers Fire Academy in January to fulfill his dream of becoming a firefighter, thanks to a memorial fund that recently was 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 Stokes's 23rd birthday.
On May 18, Stokes, a Bokeelia resident, died in a motorcycle accident on Stringfellow Road while on leave from the United States Air Force. He enlisted in December 2011.
The scholarship fund, which was established by Stokes' 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 Mrs. Stokes' efforts during the ceremony.
The interest in becoming a firefighter sparked at the age of 3 for Stokes, 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 certification 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 Stokes.
"I've got just the man," Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Deputy Chief Joe Marzella said after information was shared about the 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, of which he had no idea he was to receive.
"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 Stokes. 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 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 Mrs. Stokes. "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 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 Stokes was in the Fire Explorer program, which brought laughter to the room. Rebecca Stokes 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.