Military service bonds scholarship donor, recipient

 

by Sara Woelfel

 

 

Ron Phelps, ’93, expected the tour of the Wisconsin Air National Guard base to last about 10 minutes or so.

That estimate fell far short, however, not taking into account the depth of pride and affection that his hostess, Gina D’Addio, feels for the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee where she’s stationed in her duties working as part of the aircrew flight equipment section, which is part of the Operations Group. Instead of 10 minutes, the two-hour meeting with D’Addio included not just the usual pleasantries of two people meeting for the first time, but an enthusiastic hug of welcome, friendly introductions to all her colleagues and a thorough tour of the facilities and hangar area.

 

“She sees this place every day, but she still feels such a sense of excitement about it,” said Phelps about the tour. “It was a spectacular opportunity to meet everyone available that day, including the Operations Group commander.”

 

D’Addio’s enthusiasm stems not only from her passion for sharing her military home, but also from the overwhelming gratitude she feels toward Phelps, who established a Cardinal Stritch University scholarship specifically for military personnel and their families. D’Addio is the first recipient, so their meeting marked an opportunity for her to thank him in person.

 

“I feel very blessed,” D’Addio said. “It’s so moving when you feel like someone is invested in you, not just in a financial sense, but he genuinely cares.”

 

The two felt an immediate connection, which they both attribute, in part, to the special ways that military people can relate to each other. D’Addio’s family history is deeply entrenched in military service, so she is carrying on the legacy of her grandfathers, parents and in-laws, and starting a new generation of service along with her husband, whom she met when they both enlisted at age 17.

“I remember when I was in first grade, we had a career day,” D’Addio said. “I wore my dad’s cap and gave a speech on why I wanted to be in the Air Force. It’s been one constant in my life and it’s who I was meant to be.”

 

She started her military career as a medical logistics journeyman, then deployed to Nicaragua to do a humanitarian mission setting up free clinics in three villages. Since transferring to the aircrew flight equipment unit, she has deployed three times – twice to Qatar and once to Guam – and she may be headed to Guam again this summer.

 

“This has fulfilled me in ways I could never express,” D’Addio said. “I get to travel the world, meet wonderful people, and grow into who I want to be as a person.”

 

D’Addio said she’s grateful she found Stritch when she decided to go back to school after getting married and having two children. Working full time, raising a family and facing the occasional deployment, Stritch’s bachelor’s degree program in strategic management of information systems fits her situation perfectly, especially with its online component, credits given for prior college courses, training and experiences, and a military tuition discount.

But even with that discount, she admits that family finances are tight as she works her way through the program. That’s why news of the Ronald L. Phelps Annual Scholarship for Military Veterans and Families overwhelmed her with gratitude.

 

“I strongly believe that when you get there – wherever ‘there’ is – you should give back,” said Phelps who is a senior vice president, wealth advisor, and portfolio management director for the Phelps Group at Morgan Stanley. “This is an awesome way to give back.”

 

Looking in the future, D’Addio expects she and Phelps will stay in touch.

 

“I wanted him to see he helped a person, not just some random name on a piece of paper,” D’Addio said. “I really hope he cherished our time together as much as I did and that he keeps in touch. I feel like I’ve known Ron forever and hope ours is a lasting friendship. Now he’s a part of the 128th family.”

 

Photos by Chris Lange, ’11

 

 

 

Details of the scholarship and Phelps' decision to establish it appeared in the story “Duty calls on veteran: New scholarship supports military families” in the 2016 issue of Stritch magazine earlier this year.

 

Do you want to provide a scholarly opportunity for one of Stritch’s 100+ current student-veterans? For more information, contact Dr. Rob Buckla, vice president for University Advancement, at (414) 410-4201 or rjbuckla@stritch.edu, or Coleen Southwell, associate vice president/senior philanthropy officer for University Advancement, at (414) 410-4425 or casouthwell@stritch.edu.

 

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Cardinal Stritch University is a Military Friendly School that supports veterans, active-duty personnel, reservists, National Guard Members, and their dependents in attaining their educational goals. More information is available here.