Retired veteran’s education "rescued" by disabled FBI agent

47-year-old Jose Negron receives the J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Scholarship to study Criminal Justice

Published Jul. 02, 2010

Jose and Mildred with Taina

Jose and Mildred with Taina

After 22 years as a United States Army Paratrooper, Puerto Rican native and grandfather Jose Negron is now a serious college student. One motivating factor is his goal of becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree. However, there is a more pressing issue driving him—he must earn his degree by 2011 to keep his current job as the Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (JROTC) Army Instructor at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach.

Last year, the military began to require that JROTC Army instructors earn a four-year degree or face termination. Jose took the position after retiring from the Army in 2003 and now works with about 240 kids.

“You only needed two years of college before, but now they want us to have a bachelor’s degree, and they gave me an extension to 2011 to earn my degree,” Jose said.

His 2011 deadline will also affect more than just his job. Jose and his wife of 25 years, Mildred, are providing full-time care for their 4-year-old granddaughter, Taina, while their daughter Army Specialist and single-mother Monica is deployed on her second combat tour—first Iraq, now Afghanistan. Jose and Mildred will be taking care of Taina until her mother returns in the summer of 2011.

As head of a single-income household with the added financial strains of child care, Jose was not sure how he would pay for the summer classes he needs to ensure he graduates by the 2011 deadline.

“I qualified for the 9/11 GI Bill®, but it only pays for 70 percent of tuition. I also have the Florida Resident Access Grant, but it does not pay for summer courses,” Jose said. “If I do not attend summer classes, I would fall behind my 2011 graduation goal.”

Luckily for Jose, fate intervened in the form of a scholarship opportunity.

Help from the FBI

Tom Hannigan joined the FBI in 1975 after flying Army helicopters in Vietnam for the Army, One of his responsibilities as an FBI Special Agent serving in an aviation unit was to provide flight instruction and flight evaluations to other FBI pilots. On one of these flight evaluations in 1991 Tom suffered a traumatic brain injury when the helicopter crashed. He was disability retired in 1992 as a result of these injuries.

Each year, the Former Agents of the FBI Foundation provide the J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Scholarship to eight former agents across the country and allow the honorees to choose which school will receive the scholarship funds. Together the eight agents distribute the $20,000 across the country. The FBI prefers the scholarship be given to a criminal justice major, but the agent can give the money to any school. Tom was selected to receive the scholarship for the Florida region this year.

“Over the last 12 years, he has raised over $100,000 for the MS Society,” Mary, Tom’s wife, said. “I think he may have been selected because of this and various other humanitarian activities he has been involved with.”

Tom immediately selected Lynn University to receive his portion of the scholarship funds ($2500) because of his fond memories of two Lynn alumni who were helping him with his physical therapy at Pinecrest Rehabilitation Hospital in Delray Beach.

“It was Lynn from the very get-go,” Mary said. “I said, ‘Why Lynn?’ and he said that’s where his therapists went to school.”

Mary then contacted Lynn to see if there was a student in need who was studying criminal justice, preferably a veteran. As it happened, Lynn’s financial aid department was assisting Jose and made the connection.

“They did a fabulous job finding Jose,” Mary said. “We’re so excited. This could not be a more perfect setup.”

Tom, Mary and Jose

Tom, Mary and Jose meet

At Mary’s request, Lynn University staff arranged for the two to meet for the first time on Thursday, June 10. The meeting was attended by Jose, his wife and his granddaughter, Lynn University staff, former FBI agents, and Tom and Mary.

During the meeting, Jose looked across the room and spoke to Tom and Mary directly, “I feel very honored, thank you. It’s not what we’re doing now; it’s the ones who came before that made all this possible.”

As first Mildred was a bit bemused by her husband’s desire to go back to school, but now she is proud of her husband and surprised at his determination.

“When he told me about going to college, I thought, ‘Oh no.’ I did not think he would have the passion,” Mildred said. “I am really, really surprised. He has thrown himself into his school work whole heartedly. I’m really proud of him and thankful to Lynn for giving him the opportunity.”