Man starts college scholarship to honor son killed in car crash

Loch Raven High students and parents give to fund

October 24, 2003|By David Anderson | David Anderson,SUN STAFF

The living room of John Burke's home in Loch Raven is brimming with photographs of his son Jake. The tall, brown-haired teen-ager smiles on the room from all angles.

"That's my most prized possession," Burke said, pointing to a photo of him and his son at Christmas two years ago. Father and son have their arms around each other and wear large grins.

Their close relationship was shattered Oct. 11 last year, when Jake, then 19, was killed after the car he was riding in spun out of control on Interstate 83 near Ruxton Road in a heavy rainstorm.

To keep his memory alive, Burke, 46, decided last summer to establish a college scholarship fund in his son's name at Loch Raven High School, where Jake graduated in 2001.

He sent out the first mailings asking for donations in August, and since then, they have steadily rolled in.

Loch Raven Principal Keith Harmeyer, who administers the fund, said he gets two or three checks a week from students, parents and Burke family friends. The fund stands at about $1,600.

"I think it's wonderful that Jake's father has done this to continue the education of a Loch Raven High School student," Harmeyer said.

Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the Baltimore County public schools, called the scholarship "an appropriate way for [Jake's] memory to continue at Loch Raven in a very important and profound manner."

Burke said that Jake - whose given name was also John - was not the best student but that he loved the "atmosphere" of high school.

He played sports and acted in school plays. And he was popular - 150 of his friends visited him in the hospital.

Each year, a scholarship of at least $500 will go to one Loch Raven student who participates in two or more school activities. Burke said he hopes the first winner will be named in the spring.

"I want to give this to the type of kid Jake was," Burke said. "It's not your 4.0 honor roll kids."

Jake's death was devastating, Burke said, but some good has come out of it. His son was an organ donor. His liver went to a Pennsylvania man whom Burke met in January; his kidneys went to people in Texas and Puerto Rico; and his heart valves will be used for medical research.

Today, Burke, who is separated, lives with Bandit, a Shih Tzu, in a modest, red-brick house. He has two children, Bridget, 23, and Kevin, 18. And he works for National Seating and Mobility, an Annapolis company that designs wheelchairs.

"I see a lot of young men who ... are paraplegics or quadriplegics, and their parents will have to take care of them for the rest of their lives," Burke said. "I think to myself, `God, I wish I could do that with Jake.' I'd take care of him no matter what."

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