Two seniors earn full-ride Lilly scholarship


HANCOCK COUNTY — It was news nine years in the making for Ethan Elsbury. And amid the cheers and tears, he was just trying not to pass out, he joked.

When Elsbury learned he was one of the recipients of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship, he was overcome with emotion knowing the award would give him a full ride to the future.

Elsbury, a senior at Greenfield-Central High School, and Matthew Kelley, a senior at New Palestine High School, were selected as this year’s Hancock County recipients of the Lilly scholarship, the Hancock County Community Foundation announced.

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The scholarship program, founded in 1998, provides college tuition each year to Indiana students who are among the top 15 percent of their graduating class and who plan to pursue a four-year degree at an Indiana college.

Two scholarships are gifted to Hancock County students annually. The eight finalists — two from each local high school — were announced two months ago by the community foundation, which oversees the selection process. A volunteer committee interviews the finalists, who are selected by an impartial third party.

Elsbury had set his sights on the Lilly Scholarship when he was in third grade, when his dad sat him and his sister down and told them he didn’t know how he was going to pay for their college educations.

Nearly a decade later, Elsbury was headed for an FFA event this month when he got the call confirming he’d achieved that goal set years before.

“The truck was silent, but then there was a lot of craziness, excitement and tears,” Elsbury recalled. “It’s very gratifying that I got it done.”

Kelley was playing a video game to calm his nerves while he waited for his call, he said. When it came, he didn’t expect to hear he was a winner of the scholarship.

“They opened up the call like they were going to let me down,” he said. “When they said I got it, I was like, ‘Wait, what?’”

Both young men plan to attend Purdue University in the fall: Kelley wishes to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering and work for NASA or a company like Boeing; Elsbury wants to major in agriculture systems management.

“After that, I want to come back to Hancock County,” Elsbury said. “I’ve always lived here, and my family is here. I want to be with my family, make a difference and work at a local agriculture company to help increase the agriculture footprint of Hancock County.”

Here is more information about each of the winners:

Ethan Elsbury, Greenfield-Central High School

Elsbury’s dream of creating a garden that would benefit his school and community started in July 2016. In the 2017 growing season, the Greenfield-Central Community Garden produced hundreds of pounds of produce, which served 2,800 students at four Greenfield-Central Schools cafeterias.

His original hope was just to serve the food he grew to students at the high school, he said; he was gratified to exceed his own expectations. For his work on this project, he received the Martha Beckenholdt Youth Philanthropy Award in 2017 and is one of five Indiana Distinguished Finalists for the National Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

His passion for agriculture has driven other community service projects Elsbury has been involved in over the years through Greenfield-Central FFA and Hancock County 4-H. He is currently working on a project through FFA, in partnership with Eastern Hancock FFA, called Safer Hancock County.

This committee is exploring ways to “educate teenagers and adults on the dangers of distracted driving, inform them on how to be defensive drivers, and how to co-exist with farm equipment when encountered on the road.” This committee was formed in response to the loss of a young life in an automobile accident involving a piece of farm equipment last year.

Elsbury thanked the mentors in his life, including Scott Jacobs, the agriculture adviser at Greenfield-Central, and Nick Kerkhoff, an engineering teacher, both of whom were influential throughout his four years of high school, Elsbury said.

Matthew Kelley, New Palestine High School

Appreciation of math, science and the environment have shaped Kelley’s life as well as his future. Kelley plans to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, focusing on the dynamics and control of aircraft in order to optimize flight path trajectories and efficiencies, helping to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

As the person in charge of Imagination Station at the New Palestine United Methodist Church’s Vacation Bible School the past two years, Kelley has introduced approximately 350 children to different scientific principles.

He was his high school’s soccer team captain this year and was also involved in quiz bowl, academic super bowl, the robotics team, Spanish honor society and student council.

His love for science and engineering also shows in his selection of an Eagle Scout Leadership Project, which he recently completed after 90 hours of work. The project involved converting an old culvert into a gravel walking path/bridge for the environmental education trail at Sugar Creek Township Park.

The old culvert area had to be cleared and 27 tons of crushed stone was distributed over a 6-foot by 30-foot area. The new gravel bridge provides a safe walking path over the culvert connecting the two sides of the environmental education trail.

Kelley thanked his Cubmaster, Joe Wehrheim, for supporting him and teaching him good life lessons and morals throughout the years.

“He is one of those scouts you can always count on to come through on anything he is asked to do,” Wehrheim said. “He is a young man of great character, faith and principles, and will accomplish everything he sets his mind to do.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship, established in 1998, aims to increase the number of Hoosier residents holding college degrees. It offers four-year, full-tuition scholarships to Indiana students who intend to work toward a bachelor’s degree at any accredited public or private college or university in Indiana. The scholarship also provides $900 per year for textbooks and equipment.

The scholarships are funded through Lilly Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic organization founded in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly and Co.