Memorial scholarship builds meaningful legacy

On May 15, 2019, Rick and Judy Rutan once again celebrated the achievements of outstanding Wayne State University physician assistant studies students at the annual Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Donors and Scholars Luncheon as a way of honoring the memory of their daughter, Lara. To preserve her legacy, the couple endowed the Lara M. Rutan, MS, PA-C Memorial Scholarship, which has supported deserving students for the past 11 years.

This year's recipients are Montana Boris, Tanner Hecht, Aimee Sassek and Vita Stramaglia, who are all on track to receive their master of science in physician assistant studies degrees at Wayne State in 2020.

"This scholarship serves as a lasting tribute to Lara, who had an infectious joy and love of life and was constantly giving of herself to help and reach out to others," said PA studies faculty member Douglas Howell as he presented the awards.

Lara, who earned her master's degree in PA studies in May 2005, was killed by a drunk driver four months after her graduation and wedding engagement.

"Lara wanted to make a difference by helping others, particularly toward better health," said Rick Rutan. "Through her scholarship, she continues to do just that by giving students in Wayne State's PA studies program the opportunity to achieve their own dreams of transforming lives through quality health care."

"This scholarship honors Lara's spirit of optimism and her consistent encouragement of others," said Judy Rutan. "Our endowment has been compounded by additional donations from family and friends, and we could not be more grateful for the generosity shown in Lara's name. The award recipients carry Lara's spirit with them through their life's work as PAs, keeping her memory alive."

Since the scholarship was first awarded in 2008, the Lara M. Rutan, MS, PA-C Memorial Scholarship has provided $88,000 in tuition assistance to 42 aspiring PAs. Recipients - full-time students in the WSU Applebaum PA studies program - are selected based on academic achievement and financial need.

The poignancy of the scholarship has inspired all of its recipients. For Montana Boris of Saginaw, the connection is very personal. Boris was involved in a fatal car accident at age 16, an event that inspired her to pursue a career in health care.

"I'm so honored to represent Lara through this scholarship," Boris said. "I hope to make her family proud by giving back in my future career as a physician assistant."

Tanner Hecht of Reese first felt his call to the medical field his junior year of high school after acting as a first responder to his father's life-threatening farming accident. It was through his father's follow-up care that he was introduced to and inspired by the PA profession.

Hecht said, "It means a lot to be a recipient of this scholarship because I aspire to live out my life with a similar love and passion for people, medicine and the PA profession as Lara did."

An avid volunteer, Aimee Sassak of metro Detroit has given her time to the Strong Military Families and HomeFront Strong programs, Orlando's Give Kids the World Village - a nonprofit resort for children with critical illnesses, and the Salvation Army.

"Receiving this scholarship is an honor and a blessing. I will strive to serve my future patients with a positive attitude and genuine empathy to embody the spirit of this award," Sassak said.

Vita Stramaglia is a passionate patient and physician assistant advocate, and recently was able educate federal legislators on Capitol Hill about bills that will ameliorate the physician assistant profession.

"One of the reasons I choose to attend Wayne State's physician assistant studies program was because of how integrated and devoted it is to giving back to the Detroit community," Stramaglia said. "The Rutan family is the epitome of our values here at Wayne State, and their generosity will allow me to focus in my clinical year so I am able to become the greatest clinician that I can be for my patients once I graduate. My sincerest gratitude goes out to them."

To donate to the Lara M. Rutan Endowed Scholarship Fund or to learn more about creating your own, please contact Denise Thomas, director of philanthropy and alumni affairs in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, at 313-577-1095 or

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