Erica Zirkelbach of Mount Vernon entered an art piece into a scholarship competition at the VFW Post 2055 Auxiliary in Centralia. After she made it to regionals in the Young American Creative Patriotic Contest, the VFW presented Zirkelbach with a surprise check for $1,000 toward her education.
According to Zirkelbach, the contest seemed like a good opportunity after applying for the St. Louis Holocaust drawing contest through school. Cindy Zirkelbach, the 15-year-old’s mother, shared the artwork, centered on the Holocaust, on Facebook to other friends and family in the VFW, and they recommended the patriotic art contest.
Missy Shaw, the Centralia VFW Auxiliary’s secretary, said Erica Zirkelbach had to submit an essay with the sketch she made, that of a family being separated next to a letter. Cindy Zirkelbach said the representation of a letter has the names of Cindy’s father, Stanley Merda, who was captured in the Battle of the Bulge, and one of Erica’s great uncles, Charlie Grothoff, who was also a World War II veteran.
According to Erica Zirkelbach, both of her father’s uncles served, and Cindy Zirkelbach’s grandfather served in the military as well. Cindy Zirkelbach said her cousin, Benjamin Cash, died as a result of a training accident in Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
"At first, I wanted to honor the people in my family who had served. And while I was working on it, I was focused on that, but I wanted it to be special,” Erica Zirkelbach said.
Zirkelbach said that the piece took about two months overall to complete, and she is glad the contest offers a chance to showcase patriotism and talents and raise awareness for the VFW. Zirkelbach does not know if she will win first place’s $15,000 prize, but she would like one of the prizes, starting at $500 for seventh place, to go toward her orthodontist schooling.
Zirklelbach said she wants to go to Duke University.
Those advancing to the national ranks will be announced by July. There are more than 4,000 applicants nationally each year, according to the VFW Auxiliary.