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JOHNSTOWN — It started out as an idea by Mark Pasquerilla to get the medical community involved in giving back. Now, 15 years later, the Apollo program is helping to keep great doctors right here in our area hospitals.

“It’s evolved so much over the years,” said Pasquerilla, who serves as the Community Foundation’s Board Chair.

The Apollo Awards Program has two parts. It honors physicians (or a physician’s immediate family) who are involved in the community above and beyond their medical practice. The excess money generated from the Apollo ceremony (now held annually in October) then goes into the Apollo Award Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation.

“It was a way for the medical community to get involved in philanthropy,” said Pasquerilla. “The program really took off when it partnered with the Cambria County Medical Society.”

Dr. Magdi Azer, now retired from Conemaugh Health System, is treasurer for CCMC. He’s been involved with the Apollo program from the beginning and remains so even in retirement.

“After several years of accumulating enough funds, it was decided a good use for that money would be to give scholarships to third- and fourth- year medical students from the Cambria and Somerset area,” said Azer. “However, they would have to promise to return to this area to practice medicine after finishing their training.”

To date, the Apollo Program has awarded $156,000 to 15 medical students and has a fund that has grown to over $146,000. The first scholarships were awarded in 2008.

“This program is very important because there is a need to encourage more physicians to return to this area,” said Azer.

Some of the largest donors to the program over the years have been, Conemaugh Health System, 1889 Foundation (formerly Conemaugh Health Foundation), Memorial Medical Center Medical Staff Endowment, Lee Initiatives, Cambria County Medical Society, and Windber Medical Center and Medical Staff.

“The biggest challenge is to keep the money coming in with the changed in leadership of the donors,” said Azer.  “Also I believe that local businesses and industries should contribute to the scholarships since they benefit to having a first class medical system with first class physicians and specialists in this area.”

Dr. John Ashurst, the first scholarship recipient to return to Cambria County to practice, said receiving the Apollo Scholarship was an honor.

“The scholarship helped out financially and it allowed me to come back to place where I grew up,” said Ashurst, who heard about the program from a friend while he was in medical school at Juniata College. The Northern Cambria native said he specializes in emergency medicine at Conemaugh Hospital.

“It’s a great program and I encourage other third and fourth year medical students from the area to apply,” said Ashurst. “This is my home and I feel I owe to the program and the community to give back- the Apollo Program was the decision for me.”

This year’s Apollo Program will be held on Tuesday, October 20, 2015.

This year’s recipients include:

  • Zachary J. Ankney, a fourth-year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Zachary is the son of Jeff Ankeny of Somerset and Jeannie Broskey of Indiana.
  • Marie R. George, a fourth-year medical student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Virginia Campus.  Marie is the daughter of Chester and Loraine George of Johnstown.
  • Daniel F. Holsinger, a fourth-year medical student at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. Daniel is the son of Dr. David and Kim Holsinger of Ebensburg.
  • Donald A. Miller, a fourth-year medical student at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. Donald is the son of David Miller of Carrolltown.
  • Lee H. Quist, a third-year medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. Lee is the son of Joseph and Robin Quist of Hastings.
  • Shoja Rahimian, a fourth-year medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. Shoja is the son of Mike and Nancy Rahimian of Johnstown.

Including this year’s awards, the Apollo program has awarded $216,500 in scholarships.

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