Tracy Miller knew her son was gone when she looked through the peephole of the door at her Towson home and saw two Marines in dress blues.
The Marines were there to deliver the news that her son, a 2001 graduate of the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, was killed in Fallujah, Iraq by an enemy sniper. Cpl. Nick Ziolkowski, 22, was deployed to the Middle East after fulfilling a childhood dream to enlist in the Marine Corps shortly after graduation.
“I opened the door and I’ll tell you I just yelled,” Miller said of that night in 2004.
She invited the two service members into her home and demanded an explanation. Her son, a sniper, often took off his helmet when trying to get a closer look at an enemy target, she said. For days, he had been exchanging fire with the sniper who killed him before he was shot in the head, she said. He died quickly, surrounded by his fellow Marines, she said.
A free book group for veterans, hosted by the Maryland Humanities and the Towson branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, kicks of Jan. 29. The group meets five times monthly for a pizza dinner and group discussion in Towson.
In 2006, Miller, who works at Towson University as an academic adviser, created a scholarship fund in her son’s memory for Towson University student veterans and others who have tried to make the world a better place.
The Nick Ziolkowski Memorial Endowment has issued more than $30,000 in scholarships since the first $900 annual award was granted in 2008, according to university officials.
This year’s award will be $5,000, divided between two students.
For the first time, a fundraiser for the scholarship fund will be held on Feb. 4 at the Towson American Legion Post 22. The veterans group will host a Super Bowl 2018 watch party from 5 to 10 p.m. with food from Mission BBQ, beer, wine, soda and games at the Towson American Legion’s Grand Hall.
Towson American Legion member John Ruffer said the veterans organization often holds fundraisers to help the community. The group voted recently to donate $500 to the endowment fund, but members decided it wasn’t enough and reached out to Towson University’s Student Veterans Group to find out what else could be done.
“It just didn't feel right,” said Ruffer, a former Marine. “It felt like we were giving from the wallet and not the heart.”
Members decided they could donate the use of their rental hall on a day when it typically goes unused —Super Bowl Sunday—and make money for the scholarship fund in the process.
“Now we [can] build community awareness to the scholarship and hopefully gain some support for our veterans,” Ruffer said. “They have already earned it.”
Known to his friends as “Ski,” Ziolkowski is remembered for his charisma and willingness to help others, according to one of his former teachers, Butch Maisel.
Maisel, an upper school history teacher at the Boys’ Latin, is also the curator of the Boys' Latin Center for Military History. Opened last April, the military museum showcases artifacts from the Revolutionary War through 2018 and, when possible, highlights the achievements of students of the all-boys university preparatory school.
Prominent in the display is an exhibit about Ziolkowski that features his Marine uniform and pictures of the former student.
Maisel said Ziolkowski lives on “everywhere” at the school today through the exhibit, a military section of the library and a portion of the lacrosse field named after the former student.
The scholarship is a way to continue his legacy, he said.
“It’s such a great legacy of a young man that did the right thing,” Maisel said of the fund. “Every step of his life was positive. If you want to perpetuate that sort of student or person, and if Nick’s memory can help to do that, it’s a great place to put your money.”
Tickets for the Nick Ziolkowski Memorial Endowment fundraiser are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.