Sixteen children of law enforcement officers and emergency responders earned scholarships from the Hundred Club this year, a record for the nonprofit that was set up after the 1974 downtown Durango fire that killed a police officer and a firefighter.
Ariel Fender, daughter of La Plata County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Bobbie Fender, thanked the club for providing her with the financial assistance that will allow her to graduate in 29 days with a degree in elementary education from Fort Lewis College.
Three years ago, during her first year of school, Ariel Fender received a letter from FLC saying she owed $1,000. She incorrectly thought her scholarships and grants were enough to cover her tuition costs.
“I was devastated I wouldn’t be able to follow my dream and become a teacher,” she said.
However, the next day, La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith notified Fender of the scholarship program available through the Hundred Club.
“By the end of the week, I had received a scholarship from this amazing club,” she told a crowd of 250 on Thursday night at the annual Hundred Club Banquet at the DoubleTree.
The annual banquet, in its 44th year, began to honor the memory of firefighter Nick Parks and police officer Gale Emerson, who lost their lives battling the Aug. 24, 1974, fire that destroyed the buildings where the Main Mall now stands in the 800 block of Main Avenue.
Sherri Rochford Figgs, a Durango native who serves on the Hundred Club’s scholarship committee, recalls returning from Europe in August 1974 – not knowing of the devastating fire in her hometown.
She said she was told at customs in New York, “Oh, you’re from Durango. Your whole town burned down.”
She remembers running to a pay phone to find out what happened.
“There were no cellphones,” she said; she hadn’t heard of the fire.
It is a fitting legacy to the men who lost their lives in the blaze that they are remembered by the Hundred Club’s mission to raise money for college scholarships for the children of first responders, she said.
Smith said the club also helps families of first responders who are struggling, noting this year the club had helped three first responders with incidental costs as they struggled with health issues, including La Plata County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Gary Boudreau, who accidentally shot himself in the leg during a training exercise in August.
Jerry Martinez, president of the club, praised predecessors Don Mapel and Dean Brown for their efforts in building the club, which requires an annual $100 donation to support its mission of helping first responders injured or killed in the line of duty and providing scholarships to children of first responders.
This year, the club provided scholarships to seven FLC students and nine students of other colleges and universities across the country.