April 3 was a difficult day for Stacey Gelina. She and her three children were supposed to be welcoming her husband’s unit back to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina that night.
But 1st Lt. Mark Gelina didn’t get to greet his eager family. He died on Nov. 4, 2006, during a combat operation in the province of Al Anbar in western Iraq.
The family had planned to move back to their home in Moberly after he returned in April.
But that chance didn’t come, so instead, Stacey Gelina and her children, Cheyane, 10, Nicholas, 7, and Brett, age 1½, came back in February, two months earlier than expected.
“We have had to adjust,” she said. “It’s been hard, moving with the kids, but we’re taking it a day at a time.”
On Wednesday, Stacey Gelina, Cheyane and Nicholas came to MU’s Student Recreation Complex for a ceremony honoring her husband.
Gelina, who was 33 when he died, graduated from MU in May 2005 with a degree in industrial engineering. The ceremony Wednesday recognized a student in the College of Engineering with the inaugural “1st Lt. Mark Gelina Memorial Scholarship,” worth $500.
Gelina’s parents, Mel and Teresa Coonce, also of Moberly, presented the award to Staff Sgt. Michael McGuire.
“I can tell you, I’ve never seen so many white uniforms in my life,” Mel Coonce said, standing in front of a sea of white-uniformed Marines.
“Mark always said there were two things he wanted to do in Iraq,” Teresa Coonce said. “The first was to bring his battalion back to their families, and the second was to make a difference. He may not have (kept the first promise), but he did make a difference.”
Gelina was a dedicated student and “tremendous mentor,” said Capt. J. Basil Read III, commanding officer of the Navy ROTC at MU. Read said Gelina was a student in his leadership and ethics class and helped mentor midshipmen — the Navy and Marine equivalent of a cadet — who were also enrolled in the university.
“He was a real good friend, and if you needed something he would help you,” said Bobby Leidy, who had been Gelina’s next-door neighbor since 2003.
Leidy said Gelina was very hard-working, remembering the “long hours of calculus” the two did together. Leidy said Gelina also worked with him to come up with ideas to raise money for causes, such as the American Red Cross.
“He came to me with this idea of having a run to raise money for them,” he said. Last Saturday, the 2nd annual Red Cross 5K Run/Walk was held in honor of Gelina.
Leidy said that this year, any excess donations were used to raise the $25,000 needed for the Gelina scholarship to be endowed by MU. Though the Navy ROTC is a long way from reaching that goal, Leidy said that the university allows itfive years to raise enough money for annual scholarships to be awarded.
Stacey Gelina said she looks forward to helping to continue her husband’s memory. With time, she said, she hopes she’ll be able to do fundraising and attend ceremonies for the Marines and ROTC.
“But this year has just been too hard,” she said.
Donations for the 1st Lt. Mark Gelina Memorial Scholarship Fund may be sent to University of Missouri-Columbia, Office of Gift Planning & Endowments, 1st Lt. Mark Gelina Memorial Scholarship, 302 Reynolds Alumni Center, Columbia MO 65211-2100.