This summer, nearly $33,000 was raised for a memorial scholarship in honor of Carnegie Hero Forrest L. Willey, leaving organizers hopeful about the future of the fund.
On Oct. 5, 1966, 15-year-old student David Black approached the Grand Rapids Middle School with a loaded .22-caliber pistol. He shot and seriously wounded one of his intended targets, 14-year-old Kevin Roth, a fellow student who Black felt had teased him. Willey, then 58, the director of secondary education at the Grand Rapids Middle School, heard there was a student with
a gun on campus and did not hesitate to go directly to the scene. He approached David and asked for the gun. David shot at Willey and missed with the first bullet, but continued to shoot at him causing Willey to collapse. Black then fired a couple shots at the police before fleeing the property. Willey died eight days later.
Willey was awarded a posthumous Carnegie Medal by the Hero Fund and is listed on the Memorial to Fallen Educators on the campus of Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. In October 2013, a memorial bench was installed outside of the Robert J. Elkington Middle School in Willey’s honor. The money for the bench was raised by local Itasca, Michigan, area resident, Rachel Bledsoe, who is dedicated to raising awareness of the ongoing problem of bullying.
The Hero Fund provided a monthly stipend to Willey’s widow, Lucille A. Willey, from 1968 until she remarried in 1975.
In fall 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the school shooting, the Grand Rapids High School Class of 1966 established the Forrest Willey Memorial Scholarship in Willey’s honor at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation. Forrest Willey’s son, Bob, was a 1966 classmate, and they wanted to do something to honor Forrest Willey.
Each year, the Forrest Willey Memorial Scholarship fund provides two scholarships: one for a Grand Rapids High School graduate and one for a Northern Lights Community School graduate.
Community Foundation Chief Development Officer Mindy Nuhring said that fundraising for the scholarship had stagnated until this summer when several reunion classes got involved in promoting the fund.
“It is hard to know how much suffering Forrest Willey prevented by leaving the safety of his office that day. Had he not intervened we don’t know how many students might have lost their lives. One thing we do know, Mr. Willey intentionally placed himself between the shooter and the intended target. That should make him a hero in anyone’s estimation. By funding this scholarship, we all have a hand in accomplishing Mr. Willey’s goal of helping students, something he gave his life for,” says Rick Blake, Class of 1966.
About $32,800 has been donated to the fund since May, Nuhring said. The Community Foundation manages donations for several causes in the Grand Rapids area.
Donations for the scholarship fund can be made on the Foundation’s website, gracf.org or mailed to the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation at 350 NW 1st Ave., Suite E, Grand Rapids, MN 55744.
This article contains a reprint of the May 29, 2022 article appearing in the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Herald-Review.