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Sandy Nininger died a hero’s death at the Battle of Bataan only one month after the United States entered World War II. His actions during the first few days of fighting may have changed the entire course of the war in the Pacific, for which Congress honored Nininger posthumously with the Medal of Honor.
Nininger was a Key Club member and is honored annually by the Southwest District through the Sandy Nininger Award. The recipient is a Key Club member who has distinguished himself/herself by making the most of his/her opportunities.
The honor recognizes individuals in terms for their own abilities despite any weaknesses or lack of opportunity.
Since 1946, Key Clubs and Key Club Districts present several thousand Sandy Nininger Medals to outstanding students who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The final selection of the Southwest District Award winner is made by Jim and/or Sherry Jennings, who sponsor the award, which is announced at the Key Club District Convention.
This year, local Kiwanis member Morrie Pongratz recognized the skill set and leadership ability in one local youth.
He nominated Kelsey Souza, a Los Alamos High School graduate, to receive this award.
Souza has been a Key Club member for four years.
Pongratz, who has been a Key Club sponsor for more than 20 years, said, “Kelsey has been extremely active in the Los Alamos High School Key Club for the last four years, achieved perfect meeting attendance in her junior year and this academic year was Bulletin Editor for the three-state Southwest District of Key Club, and a member of the Southwest District Board of Governors.”
Souza maintained a 4.098 GPA and was awarded an academic letter. She competed in the UNM-PNM Statewide Mathematics Contest from 2004- 2008, has been a semi-finalist and in the top 20 percent of participants for five consecutive years.
Souza’s community spirit and volunteerism, which dates back to her freshman year, also made her eligible for nomination. While it began with washing dishes at a pancake breakfast, her senior year found her raising money through two fundraising efforts for the Southwest District Project, Beads of Courage, and completing more than 140 hours of community service.
Pongratz also noted Souza’s admission to Los Alamos High School’s National Honor Society (NHS), as well her stint as one of three youth voting members of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.
Souza’s spare time has also included time as a piano student of Lois Eddleman, which found her performing 15 piano recitals.
“Kelsey has a million dollar smile, a quick mind and the enthusiasm of the Energizer Bunny,” Pongratz said. “She is very likeable, encouraging and positive. As a leader, she demonstrates sensitivity, vision, judgment and courage.”
Souza not only received the unanimous endorsement of the Kiwanis of Los Alamos, but the Southwest District Nininger Award, too.