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Wiremu Keepa.
Wiremu Keepa.

The BayTrust's Dillon Scholarship programme, which supports local students with significant disabilities to undertake tertiary study, is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

More than 480 students have received around $1.5 million since the scholarship programme began and last week dozens of former scholarship recipients shared their stories at a 25th anniversary function.

Rotorua's Wiremu Keepa first received a Dillon Scholarship in 2000 after he was diagnosed with a heart problem at age 49.

"I was right in the middle of my Bachelor of Tourism Management at Waiariki. I started to go downhill and I became very weak," he said.

"The scholarship certainly helped me through the last six months of my degree. It took the financial pressure off and allowed me to concentrate on my health issues at the same time as study."

The former navy officer finished his qualification before having a heart transplant in 2003. But his desire to study never waned, and he subsequently applied for another Dillon Scholarship and completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Business Studies at Waikato University, followed by an MBA.

Now 62, Mr Keepa said a PhD was also on his list.

"I'm keen to look at why Maori are reluctant to be organ donors because of cultural aspects. I'll be forever grateful to BayTrust for these scholarships which have enabled me to pursue this pathway through tertiary study."

Dillon Scholarship committee chairwoman Pamela Lewis said the programme was established in 1990 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Bay Savings Bank, the forerunner of Trust Bank Bay of Plenty.

It was named after the late Ray Dillon, a former chairman of the Trust Bank Bay of Plenty board and former Tauranga mayor. His wife - former Tauranga deputy mayor and BayTrust chairwoman, Mary Dillon - said she had no idea the scholarship would grow into the significant programme it was today.

"It's quite extraordinary. If you're physically or emotionally challenged it's actually really hard to get funding to assist you with education beyond high school."

- Applications open on November 1. To find out more visit www.baytrust.org.nz or call (0800) 654 546.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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