Douglas girl awarded scholarship in brother’s memory |

Douglas girl awarded scholarship in brother’s memory

Nancy Hamlett

When Mariah Weigel was named the recipient of this year’s Eli Weigel Scholarship, it was a bittersweet honor for the whole Weigel family.

Mariah, who was valedictorian of this year’s Douglas High School graduating class, said that at first she didn’t consider the significance when she won the $1,000 scholarship that was awarded in memory of her brother.

“I was honored and happy to win the scholarship. It was later that I thought of the connection,” said Mariah.

The Eli Weigel Scholarship Fund was established in memory of Gary and Mary Weigel’s older son, who drowned in a rafting accident in 1993. The first scholarships were awarded in 1994 with funds donated to a special account. They were then continued at the suggestion of John Soderman, then the principal of C.C. Meneley Elementary School.

“John wanted to start a scholarship, but wasn’t sure how he wanted to set it up,” said Mary. “After Eli died, he said that he knew what he wanted to do. Eli was an exemplary student, and we were honored by the thought.”

The scholarships are now funded by the CCMES Parent Faculty Advisory Committee, and as a teacher at CCMES, Mary usually is part of the selection committee. But since Mariah was applying for one of two $1,000 scholarships, Mary stepped down this year.

“Mariah has worked hard for everything that she has accomplished, and I didn’t want anyone to think for a minute that there was any bias involved,” said Mary.

“Even though Gary and I thought of the possibility that she might be named the recipient, the significance still hit us hard. It was a very special moment for us,” she said.

n Transfer to Tahoe. Gary and Mary and their children Eli, Mariah and Yuri, moved to the Gardnerville Ranchos in 1988 when Gary transferred to Lake Tahoe with the U.S. Forest Service.

“When Gary was transferred, we anticipated living up at Lake Tahoe, but when we got there, there was dead silence in the car for a couple of minutes. The town didn’t feel good. The heart wasn’t there. And right away we knew that it wasn’t a place we wanted to raise our family,” said Mary.

“Then someone told us to check out Gardnerville,” said Gary.

The Carson Valley was equally shocking to the Weigel’s after coming from Du Bois, Wyo., a small town with a population of just 1,000 people.

“We thought we had come to the city, but we fell in love very quickly,” said Mary. “At times we may yearn for small town living again, but the Carson Valley has been a wonderful home.”

The Weigel family also takes advantage of the surrounding mountains by cross-country skiing, hiking and camping, with the Hoover Wilderness by Bridgeport as one of their favorite destinations.

During spring break, Gary took Mariah and Yuri to the Grand Canyon for more hiking and exploration. Gary was especially thrilled with Yuri’s reaction as he scrambled through the rocks.

“Lately, Yuri has been a reluctant participant, but we were at the North Rim and explored the side canyons. Even Yuri seemed to enjoy himself,” Gary said.

“It’s not as fun anymore. I’d rather be with my friends or on the computer,” said Yuri. Or sharpening his sense of humor, which Mariah said can be pretty funny.

n Different styles. “He’s sarcastic, and we enjoy it, but I sometimes wonder if his teachers do,” said Mary. “But Yuri is very cerebral. As a matter of fact, school is a bit dull for him, whereas Mariah had to work hard every inch of the way. They are both excellent students, but sometimes their different learning styles amaze me.”

Gary said that at one time he could help Yuri and Mariah with their homework, but it wasn’t long before he was floundering a bit.

“As they got into more advanced classes, I realized that I would have to follow along with the book or else they would surpass me. But they left me in the dust anyhow,” said Gary.

When it came time for Mariah to choose a college, she selected Westmont College in California.

“It’s a small, private, Christian school of about 1,200 students, with a reputation for high academics and quality professors and students,” said Mary. “Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it is in Santa Barbara. It’s a very beautiful place to live.”

Mariah grinned. “I’ll miss cross-country skiing in the winter, but I think I can adapt to the beach and the ocean.”

After Eli’s accident, Gary became involved with Garth Pintler’s outdoor education class at Carson Valley Middle School. He discussed water recreation with the students, explaining how seemingly innocent activities can turn deadly and then providing information that could keep them safe. Pintler is now teaching at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School and continuing the outdoor education classes.

“It still hurts to think about Eli, but I talked to these classes several times, and I will do it again,” said Gary. “No one needs another accident like Eli’s.”

After 12 years, the Weigels are firmly entrenched in Carson Valley activities, and they agree that, for now, there is no place they would rather be.

“Someday maybe we’ll move back to a tiny town, after retirement – in 100 years,” said Gary.

“Yuri is 15 years old, and we’re not about to pull up roots and move anywhere. It’s important to stay. After he has gone to college – who knows what we will do?” said Mary.

However, one thing is never in doubt – the Weigels will always have a positive impact on the Carson Valley, and Eli will always be remembered, with a scholarship that finds the best of the best and rewards them for their excellence.