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Fallen Firefighter Scholarship Given to La Grande Student

   LA GRANDE, Ore.

Angela Abel, 28, a senior in the OHSU School of Nursing, La Grande, is the first recipient of the Retha Mae Shirley Nursing Scholarship. The $3,000 award was established in memory of the 19-year-old wildland firefighter who was killed in a van accident while heading to a Colorado forest fire in June 2002. Shirley was in a prenursing program at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls at the time of her death. She worked the summer months as a firefighter to help pay for her college expenses.

"I'm honored to accept this scholarship, but the circumstances that created it are very tragic, and I wish it hadn't happened," said Abel.

Abel also works parttime as a waitress at a local restaurant, Benchwarmers, and has a 1-year-old son. She has a bachelor's in anthropology and sociology but didn't enjoy social work as much as she thought she would. She still wanted to help people, so nursing was a perfect fit. She has a 3.94 grade point average.

Abel didn't know Shirley, personally. However, in the small community in eastern Oregon where they both lived, their lives crossed paths. Abel's cousin-in-law, Anthony Kyle, was in the same van accident with Shirley, but survived the crash. In all, five Grayback Forestry contract firefighters died as a result of the accident.

Retha Mae Shirley Another cousin of Abel's had been Shirley's friend. "I understand Retha was a really great person. She was really sweet. In high school she was known as being a really neat girl. She was very beautiful also," Abel said.

Abel was chosen for the scholarship by Shirley's family members, who read Abel's application letter. "All the letters were great. It was a tough decision. A lot of the things Angie wrote reminded us of Retha. Angie has a wonderful outlook on life. She will make a great nurse. We look forward to meeting her," said Linda Shirley, Retha's mother.

Retha's family and friends set up the scholarship so that Retha's spirit of giving would continue. The scholarship is to be given to seniors in the Oregon Health & Science University nursing program from Union, Wallowa and Baker counties. The goal of the Retha Mae Shirley Nursing Scholarship is to involve the entire community in funding it.


For information about giving to the scholarship fund contact Barbara Peschiera at 503 494-0448, or e-mail at or for more information about the scholarship or visit
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