For the members of Middletown Reformed Church, it still seems like yesterday when the shocking news started to hit the tight-knit community, shaking it to the core. Though ten years has passed, the impact of Lieutenant Dennis W. Zilinski’s death has not diminished. A beloved member of the congregation and youth group at the church, the intense pain of Dennis’ passing in 2005 is still so fresh to many, it seems.
While the news of his death was devastating to his family, friends, and the community-at-large, those who loved and cared for him established the Lieutenant Dennis Zilinski Youth Group Memorial Scholarship Fund in 2006 to honor his memory and to pay tribute to the way in which his lived his life — a life that embodied the values of service to God and Church, service to country, service to his family and service to his community. Established through the leadership and dedication of Jo-Ann LoSapio and her son Christopher, the scholarship fund committee hosts fundraising events to support scholarships to youth group members who are entering college, furthering their higher education or entering the military.
On Saturday, May 16, the Middletown Reformed Church Youth Memorial Scholarship Committee will host “Dancing With Dennis,” an event which will raise money for youth scholarships, honor the lasting legacy of Lieutenant Zilinski, pay tribute to veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and recognize members of Gold Star Mothers. The event, which will be held from 6-10 pm at VFW Post 2179 in Port Monmouth, ill feature a buffet dinner and cash bar.
Lieutenant Dennis W. Zilinski II was a native of Middletown and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy, where he was a member of the swim team. He was nominated to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 2004. He completed Airborne School while a student at West Point. After graduation from Ranger School, he was assigned to the 1/187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) ’Rakkasan.’ He deployed with the 101st Airborne Division on September 17, 2005. On November 19, 2005, only two months into his deployment, Lieutenant Zilinski II was killed in Iraq as a result of a roadside bombing near Bayji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.
“It’s like yesterday. We cry every time we do something in his honor,” said Beverly Bova Scarano, a close personal friend to the Zilinski family and active member of the church. Bova-Scarano noted that the life Dennis lived has left an indelible and lasting legacy and has continued to serve as an example.
Past scholarship recipients have honored Dennis’ memory by remaining active in the church and community-at-large, and several have followed directly in his footsteps by entering the military. Lloyd Petrone is serving in the United States Marine Corps and is currently in his second year in Japan, while Lloyd’s brother Joseph just completed basic training and is stationed in Mississippi for specialized training in the United States Air Force. Kaitlyn Powell is in the United States Air Force, and is returning for a second year in Korea.
Tickets to the May 16 event are $50 per person, and responses are kindly requested by April 15, 2015. Information and reservations are available by contacting Event Chairwoman Jo-Ann LoSapio by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (732) 890-1807.
Checks should be made payable to MRC Zilinski Scholarship Fund Account and should be sent to Middletown Reformed Church “Dancing With Dennis,” P.O. Box 622, New Monmouth, N.J. 07748. Those who cannot attend but who want to support the cause can send donations to the address listed above. Members of the dinner-dance committee are Jo-Ann LoSapio, Judy Guarino, Dara Steele, Sandy Thorpe, Judy Lengyel, Donna Van Brunt, Sue Kutko and Myrna Bonin.