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{mosimage}September 12-- The Vidalia onion industry is responding to the brutal murder of a 15-year-old Toombs County girl who was vacationing with her family in Florida earlier this summer. The Courtney Wilkes Memorial Agriculture and Veterinary Scholarship will be granted annually to a qualifying senior graduating high school within Vidalia onion growing region.  Donations are currently being accepted with the hopes that a thousand dollar scholarship can be awarded for a minimum of ten years. 

Wilkes was a rising junior at Toombs County High School and number one in her class academically.  She was an officer of FFA, star soccer player, and devout Christian.  The young outdoor enthusiast is described by all who knew her as infectiously cheerful, offering everyone around her a bright smile and silly jokes. She loved animals and aspired to be a veterinarian.  Starting spring 2012, the scholarship will be granted once a year to a student possessing characteristics and interests similar to those of the bright, likeable young girl.  Among other prerequisites, applicants must be enrolled in a four year college in an agriculture or veterinary track.

The Vidalia, Georgia, community remains devastated by the June killing that happened at Seagrove Beach outside picturesque, quiet Seaside, Florida.  A 21-year-old area man alleging he was younger befriended the teen and her family.  When the young woman failed to return from a walk at the agreed time, her parents reported Courtney missing.  Shortly thereafter, she was found strangled and severely beaten in a wooded area off a nature trail.  The Walton County Sheriff after apprehending the suspect commended the parents for responsibly supervising the youngsters.  They had only permitted the oldest child, two weeks shy of her 16th birthday, to walk along the beach with the man the last afternoon of the family’s stay.  Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for first-degree, premeditated murder and other serious charges.

The Wilkes family, a close member of whom has long worked in and been a vital contributor to the Vidalia industry, is highly respected by the Vidalia area for being meek, hardworking, Christian people. Following a shocking situation that will be an ongoing source of sadness for Courtney’s family and friends, the farmers would like the scholarship to be a positive tribute to the friendly, joyful young woman filled with a zest for life.  It is their hope that applicants be imbued with Courtney’s strong morals, quirky or fun humor, intelligence, commitment to learning, and respectful appreciation of nature and animals.

Those wishing to contribute at any time to the Courtney Wilkes Memorial Agriculture and Veterinary Scholarship should make out their tax-deductible contributions specifically to GVF Foundation, Courtney Wilkes Scholarship.  Checks should be mailed to Courtney Wilkes Scholarship, C/O Vidalia Onion Business Council, P.O. Box 2611, Vidalia, GA, 30475.  Questions can be directed to Bob Stafford*, Vidalia Onion Business Council. **