The Ottumwa Courier

May 17, 2013

Ottumwa teen earns criminal justice scholarship

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — A high school senior who shares the work ethic and spunk of the late Lisa Caldwell has been awarded a scholarship in her honor.

Ottumwan Hunter Varner, a senior at Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont High School, earned the first Wapello County Sheriff Reserves Lisa Caldwell Memorial Scholarship this week, a $1,000 award that will go toward her college education as a criminal justice major at either Iowa Wesleyan College or William Penn University.

Varner is the daughter of Brett and Misty Little of Ottumwa and Zack and Erin Baayen of Temecula, Calif.

Wapello County Sheriff reserve officer Jeremy Weller said the reserves had talked about providing scholarships for a couple of years. Then one year ago one of their own, Caldwell, was killed, prompting the officers to name the scholarship after her.

Last year's golf tournament fundraiser brought in more than $2,000, which added to the $2,000 the reserves had already provided to the scholarship from their own funds. While the original goal was to provide two high school seniors with $500 scholarships, the officers decided $1,000 to one student would be more helpful.

"$500 doesn't go very far," Weller said. "It might pay for the credits for a class, and it may not even pay for books."

Varner's essay caught the officers' attention, discussing the pros and cons of armed police officers in schools, which she wrote following the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn.

School shootings hit close to home for her parents, Varner said, who were students at Ottumwa High School in 1994 when their good friend, Jeremy Allen, was shot and killed by another student.

"Her essay stood out," said reserve officer Thomas Millikin. "And through some of the stuff she's done, she's shown some good leadership qualities."

Varner is on her school's volleyball and track teams, is the wrestling team's manager and has already completed a year of her criminal justice degree after taking courses through Indian Hills since she was a high school freshman.

"My uncle works in the criminal justice field, and he got me interested in it," said Varner, who would like to someday be a crime scene investigator. "I was really honored and glad that it was the Lisa Caldwell scholarship, being a female and wanting to get into criminal justice."

In fact, the reserve officers saw characteristics of Caldwell in 18-year-old Varner.

"Lisa was very involved when she was in school, she was involved with the reserves program, she worked as a correctional officer and she was a fun person to be around," Weller said. "I think Hunter displays some of those same characteristics — and her work ethic. Lisa had a great work ethic. We really want this scholarship to continue for many years to honor Lisa and her family."

This year, the officers hope the golf fundraiser will be even bigger, hopefully doubling the amount they raised last year. Next year, then, they might give out two $1,000 scholarships.

"If we can continue that for several years ... we'll give out $2,000 but we'll be taking in $4,000 every year," he said. "It just continually builds up money so it becomes self-sustaining."

The second annual golf fundraiser will be held on Aug. 10 at Cedar Creek Golf Course. High school seniors who reside in Wapello County can apply for the annual scholarship.

To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.