Paying it forward: Roger Gremminger helps students attend high school and college

  • (From left) Principal Amy Kendziorski stands with Waimea Middle School eighth graders Farah Marini, Makena Hurney, Kyana Brucelas and Malia Camero as they hold up their College Pathway Scholarships at the end-of-year Exit Ceremony at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel May 31. Dr. Roger Gremminger (right) generously awarded them each the $1,000 scholarships. (COURTESY PHOTO/WMS)

WAIMEA — It’s said that education is the most powerful tool to change the world.

In his own way, Waimea resident Dr. Roger Gremminger is helping local students become those pathfinders of tomorrow. In 2015, he established College Pathway Scholarships to encourage students to attend college and has been funding them every year since.

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Gremminger worked as an emergency room doctor on the mainland for more than 30 years before retiring and moving to Hawaii Island. For him, retirement didn’t mean getting comfy in a recliner; it meant more free time to make a difference.

He had volunteered every year of his life since college, so after settling in Waimea he immediately sought volunteer opportunities. Working in medicine was a logical choice, but he wasn’t licensed to practice as a doctor in Hawaii. Then Gremminger met Patti Cook, who encouraged him to volunteer at Waimea Middle School (WMS).

He remembered thinking, “Education … that’s interesting. It’s an enduring thing that can have a long standing effect on a child’s life.”

So he got involved.

Gremminger has served as a WMS mentor for two children and most recently tutored students in math twice a week. But his real mark came in the College Pathway Scholarships.

For WMS students accepted into Parker School or Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA), the scholarships acknowledge their academic achievements with the money going directly into their school accounts. The money helps with tuition costs and provides some financial relief for parents who are making a big sacrifice to send their kids to those two schools, Gremminger said.

Last year, he established a second scholarship program for exiting WMS eighth graders planning to attend Honokaa High. In this case, the scholarship money is held until the student’s senior year as an incentive to make good grades and apply for college. At the completion of high school with good grades, the scholarship money may be used to help pay application fees and tuition for the student’s first year in college or other accredited post-secondary education program.

In the first year, five $1,000 scholarships were awarded. In the second year there were nine, and this year there were five recipients: Farah Marini, who will attend Parker School for ninth grade, and Makena Hurney, Kyana Brucelas, Malia Camero and Jordan Hanano who will all attend HPA this fall.

Gremminger, himself, attributes his successful career as a physician to hard work and assistance he received to go to college. As one of seven children raised on a family farm of meager means, he would not have been able to attend college without outside help.

Now he’s eager to pay it forward.

With the scholarships, “I really wanted to reach kids from low-income families who are good students, hoping I could stimulate them to go to college,” Gremminger said.

He knew there was a need; he had learned it at school. At WMS Gremminger remembered talking about college with a group of sixth graders.

“I asked them about college and they all looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about? Why would we even consider this?’” he said.

“There are some bright, intelligent students at the school who don’t have the interest or ambition to go to college and I think that’s a shame. So I came up with a program that hopefully will stimulate their interest,” Gremminger commented.

The recipients and their parents are appreciative of the scholarships he has created. Mel and Patrick Hurney, for example, have had not just one but three children attend HPA, and both girls are recipients of Gremminger’s scholarships.

“We’re very grateful to him,” Mel said. “My husband and I grew up knowing education is a great gift and we’ve always felt the best gift we can give our children is an education.”

To afford private school tuition the family has made many sacrifices over the years, forgoing family vacations, new cars and countless other things. Nevertheless, when it came down to deciding what high school to attend, the family had to look at all options to see what was possible.

“Dr. Gremminger’s scholarships helped us reach our dreams,” Mel said.

A WMS graduate, Kassadie Hurney is now in the eleventh grade. According to Mel, she’s grown socially and academically at HPA and greatly values her education.

“She’s actually decided she wants to be just like Dr. Gremminger; she wants to be a doctor someday,” Mel said. “She’s expressed to me she loves Waimea, she can’t see herself being anywhere else, so she plans to go off to get her medical degree and then come back to Waimea to practice medicine. She wants to pay it forward, to other kids like her and families like ours.”

For parents who feel private high school or college is out of reach, Mel encourages them to never give up.

“We, too, thought it was impossible to have our kids attend private school but we’d also dreamt about it. Actions like those of Dr. Gremminger gives us all hope.

“He’s making an investment in more than just the child or the family; he’s making an investment in the community as well. Because, if we provide our children with a quality education, then they’ll come back here someday and stay,” she said.

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In “Thank You” letters received by Gremminger, one student wrote, “I will work hard to be sure that I put your gift to good use.”

Another read, “I am excited to be attending HPA and look forward to taking advantage of all the programs that will help prepare me for college. Thanks to people like you who care, kids like me can achieve our dreams.”