Preston teen awarded $21K scholarship in national VFW essay competition

Published 6:50 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

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By Linda Baier

Manford “Stub” Corson, from Preston, Minnesota, was barely an adult when he became a soldier during World War II. His older brothers Ernest and Norman also served during the war.

Manford’s Tank Destroyer Battalion was almost decimated in Tunisia.

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He worked as a scout behind enemy lines and reported directly to General Patton. Manford was wounded multiple times during fighting in North Africa and into Sicily. While in Sicily he became trapped in an underground tunnel after it collapsed on him during a Luftwaffe bombing of the docks and was sent home and spent a year recovering in a hospital. He became deaf in one ear because of shrapnel and had a limp resulting from the bombing for the rest of his life.

Manford carried on with his life, despite his injuries and became a father of seven children, a successful businessman and was well known in his community. Yet, what happened during the war never left him, and his story was passed on to generations of his family.

Preston’s Siri Corson holds her check for $21,000 after coming in second in the National Voice of Democracy essay contest held by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Photo provided

Siri Corson, his 16-year-old great-granddaughter, also of Preston, was inspired by his story, and when her high school English teacher informed students about an essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) she knew she had to write about her great grandfather.

For her effort, Corson became the recipient of the $21,000 Charles Kuralt Memorial Scholarship, awarded to her earlier this month.

Corson said she feels all veterans should be thanked and recognized for the services they provided to our country. According to Corson, there were three or four other students from Fillmore Central High School that entered the competition titled the VFW Voice of Democracy (VOD).

VOD has been in existence since 1947, and is the VFW’s premier scholarship program. It is open to students in grades 9-12 in the U.S. and each student must submit a written and audio recording of their essay. Entries are judged by those two requirements at the local, district and state level.

Corson wrote her essay over a span of about two weeks and describes her writing style as detailed, with emotion, and a little bit of poetry and imagery. Her written words and powerful audio performance advanced her in the competition with first place finishes at the local and district levels. Siri came from District 1 which includes counties in southeastern Minnesota including Mower County.

In mid January a conference was held in Brooklyn Park for district finalists during the VFW Mid-Winter Conference. Students’ essays had been judged and the first place winner would be asked to read their essay for the audience. Corson was given that honor. For her efforts she received a total of $2,875 in scholarships and an all expense paid trip to Washington DC to compete in the national competition.

On March 4, Corson and her whole family set off to Washington DC for four days. She spent time with all the other state winners touring the Smithsonian and Arlington National Cemetery where they witnessed the changing of the guards. They were also granted special access to tour the House of Representatives.

Corson said that the Holocaust Museum made the biggest impact on her and many other students, “because it was way different than reading about it or watching movies about it. There were piles of shoes, there were graphic videos, it was well done.”

The evening of the scholarship presentations, Corson and the other students were escorted onto the stage by two soldiers in full-dress uniforms and every state’s VFW Commander and Auxiliary President. Minnesota Commander Dale Hoogeveen and Auxiliary President Sonia Tatge accompanied Siri.

Once all of the students were seated on stage, the masters of ceremonies announced that they would be presenting 65 national scholarships, 52 of them in the amount of $1,000 each. The remaining contestants would be receiving larger amounts. Time went on and Corson’s name had not been recognized.

“I was nervous,” Corson said. “I couldn’t believe my name hadn’t been called yet.”

Eventually she was one of only four students remaining. The others were from California, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. And then there were two — Corson was still in the running along with the student from Tennessee. The master of ceremonies then announced the winner of the $21,000 award was Corson.

“I had a feeling of disbelief and was quite proud of my accomplishments,” Corson said.

The student from Tennessee took first place and received a $35,000 scholarship.

“Siri is a wonderful young lady and her passionate speech and sincerity made her speech outstanding,” Tatge said. “Minnesota is so proud of her.”

The city of Preston is very proud of Siri as well. Many people watched the live stream of the awards ceremony. When she returned to school she was given a banner that had been signed by almost every student at her high school. She even received a congratulatory round of applause when she entered a local restaurant.

“There is no way I am not attending college after high school,” Corson said. “But I haven’t decided what for. Whatever I do though it will be helping people in some way.”