Seth Wendzel surprised as he is honored with a $7,000 package to help pay for collegeSurprise was definitely not in Seth Wendzel's plans as he attended Astoria High School's annual awards evening. On Thursday, though, a surprise was exactly what Wendzel got.

Astoria High School Scholarships, Inc., gave away its millionth dollar in scholarship money, in the form of a $7,000 package to Wendzel.

As his name was read, a whistle blew, stopping the ceremony momentarily, and Wendzel was given balloons, which he placed on the top of his graduation cap for the rest of the night to celebrate the honor.

This was more than a surprise for him, it was quite a shock.

"This is ridiculous. I really can't believe this right now," Wendzel said. "This really is quite amazing. I wasn't expecting this at all."

The scholarships program is one of the main reasons that AHS Principal Larry Lockett came to Astoria.

"I have been connected with school districts in McMinnville, Salem, Stayton, Silverton, Lebanon and Albany, and I have never been in a school district that has a fund like this that provides scholarships from the community for students to continue their education," he said. "I am astonished at times to see the contributions that people make for the support of the schools."

The community is what makes all of this possible, said AHS counselor Marilynn Knowlson.

"It is unique for a school of our size to have so much money involved," she said. "It is a real testament to the care that the Astoria community has for its schools."

Astoria High School Scholarship Inc. President Michael Foster said being able to give away the millionth dollar was very exciting.

"When we started this in 1976 we were only giving out about $250 per scholarship, which was about 30 percent of our funds," he said. "Now we have a corpus of funds that exceeds $3.6 million.

"It's really all about the individuals' needs met by the individual giver," he said.

The group has helped more than 1,000 scholars since its inception. "It helps dreams come true," Foster said.

"This really does pay the community because you are investing in the individual," he said. "It shows a willingness to aid students. This really is community-building."

Wendzel received the Edward Hall Scholarship which will give him $3,000 for his first two years at Oregon State University, where he's been accepted into the College of Forestry. The other $1,000 was awarded to him by the Astoria High School Scholarship, Inc., a "bonus" for being the student to put them over the $1 million mark.

Wendzel, who said the money will help "every single bit," will be studying forest recreational resources in the fall.

"After all of the hard work I've put in the last few years, this is so worth it," he said. "Now I don't have to worry so much about the financial stuff."

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