Soldier’s gift will send SV students to school

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 27, 2000

Today, four Symmes Valley High School graduates will hold a diploma in one hand and a scholarship check in the other.

Saturday, May 27, 2000

Today, four Symmes Valley High School graduates will hold a diploma in one hand and a scholarship check in the other.

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Both will lead them to college – something Lowell Gornall dreamed about at their age.

"I went to Marshall for one semester and got turned every way but loose," Gornall said, thinking back to those late 1930s days.

"I didn’t go back because it looked like war was coming and my parents didn’t have the money, so I didn’t ask them," he said.

Gornall finally earned his college degree after 19 years of night classes while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Now, he’s giving back, supporting four Symmes Valley Alumni Association scholarships – and four young people who deserve a chance to keep their education going.

"I think of an old salmon who goes to sea and he finally comes back up river and this is my trip."

Born John Lowell Gornall to John Gilbert and Eva Rebecca Gornall of Aid, the spry 78-year-old from Atlanta, Ga., admits his tale is a long one.

The Lawrence County native spent his early days on a dairy farm. He first drove a milk truck at age 14 1/2, while enjoying his high school days at the old Mason-Aid High School. It closed about 1941.

"It was a wood frame school with an upstairs for grammar school and four classrooms downstairs, and pot-bellied coal-fired stoves," he said.

"There were 18 of us in high school and just nobody had any money to go to college."

So, after the one brief semester at Marshall, Gornall worked as a stock clerk at JCPenney in Huntington, W.Va., then landed a job at an ice cream factory, then went back home to help on the family’s dairy.

Just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gornall enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Assigned to posts in St. Louis, he hoped to get into an aircraft mechanics school.

Instead, he was sent to officer candidate school and commissioned a second lieutenant. He came back home and married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Matney. She passed away two years ago.

Gornall’s first military assignment landed him at a base in Tennessee – the beginning of a more-than-30-year career with the Air Force.

During that career, Gornall found a love of helping others, and helping them with education, he said.

In time, he led a movement that convinced colleges to give course credit for military training.

"I felt that I knew the courses we had were worth something to earn a college degree," he said.

"It was the greatest thing I ever did in the Air Force because we turned a bunch of people on to school who had no idea. I had spent a long time on my degree and I understood."

Gornall ended his career as the deputy commander of Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.

Yet, he never forgot his hometown.

He has marched almost every year in the Ironton Memorial Day Parade.

And he has given money each year to the Symmes Valley Alumni Association to help graduating seniors who "might have missed out on all the other scholarships," he said.

Gornall visited Saturday to announce the latest scholarships, which come from a $40,000 gift administered by the Foundation for the Tri-State Community.

"Where I can help young folks have an opportunity to expand and pursue their potential, that is a good thing to do," he said. "The best days I had in the Air Force was finding people to help."

When he found them, they always told him the world didn’t care about the little people.

Gornall liked being able to change that perception, he said.

"If you work hard and show you’re appreciation and be fair and have respect, I think you’ll make it," he said, then added a few more admonitions for today’s graduates.

"You gotta stay up late and study and don’t forget the little people."