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thedrifter
10-18-07, 07:19 AM
October 18, 2007

His spirit lives on in scholarship

By KAREN BRUNE MATHIS
The Times-Union


Marine Cpl. Joshua Watkins died a year ago Sunday from enemy gunfire in Iraq.

On Wednesday, as the anniversary of his death neared, his mother met with the first students to receive a scholarship in his name.

"It is to honor you guys for being willing to have a commitment for this country," said Amy Watkins Vazquez. "Joshua so loved this country."

Vazquez congratulated, hugged and shared her son's story with University of North Florida students Thomas Morton, a civil engineering student, and James Littleton, a computer and information science major.

Morton, enrolled in the Navy ROTC program, intends to apply to become a Navy SEAL after graduation.

Littleton is a veteran of both the Navy and the Army.

Each received a $1,000 scholarship over two semesters. Watkins and her family set up the Marine Cpl. Joshua C. Watkins Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund soon after he died. He was 25 and just nine days from returning home.

Watkins studied building construction management at UNF, which he attended for three years, and promised his mother he would complete his degree.

On Wednesday, Vazquez and her brother, David Tillis, thanked Morton and Littleton. The students will help fulfill Watkins' plans by completing their own education.

With emotion, Vazquez told the students about Joshua joining the Marines. "He was psyched," she said.

He was shot in Fallujah, and "he went down firing," she said.

Upon hearing of Joshua's death, one of Vazquez's industry friends opened an account to create a college fund to honor him. Vazquez, a mortgage broker, soon met with a mortgage bankers trade group. A PGA Tour executive was speaking and offered to donate $10,000.

Vazquez said she and Tillis "had an epiphany" and created a scholarship for military personnel at UNF.

After reading about it, area philanthropist Robert Jacoby donated $10,000 and then another $10,000. Jacoby said he was an only child and enlisted in World War II at the age of 17. It broke his mother's heart, so he wanted to help Vazquez.

As of Wednesday, UNF Associate Vice President Rod Grabowski said 94 donors had stepped up to help the endowed fund grow to more than $64,000 and the operating fund to $3,055.

The first scholarships come from the operating fund. The endowment goal is $100,000, which would generate a $50,000 match from the state. Grabowski says about five students a year could then be helped. For information, call Maris Brien at (904) 620-2116 or e-mail at mbrien@unf.edu.

Over the year, Vazquez has been taking her message about her son, his love of country and her support of the troops wherever she's asked.

"I go because it's a tremendous blessing for me to do something for the troops," she says.

She also can't pass by people in uniform without stopping to thank them for their service.

On Wednesday, Vazquez wore her son's Purple Heart on a chain.

She says she wears it regularly so her heart is next to his.

karen.mathis@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4305

Ellie