Widows air Hero Scholarship Fund complaints

City Council is often the place where tales of broken promises and disrespect are lofted like missiles in political warfare.

But not yesterday.

In a cavernously empty chamber, the widows and children of cops and firefighters who died in service to the city told their personal stories of bitter frustration with the Hero Scholarship Fund.

You know, the outfit that does the annual Thrill Show to raise money so that these children of heroes can go to college?

Except the Hero Scholarship Fund no longer has an annual show and doesn't pay the full ride for college, limiting payments to just $8,800 in tuition per semester. It also no longer has an office in Philadelphia. Try Felton, Del.

And according to the widows, plan on catching a raft of rude talk and a hang-up from Jeremiah Callaghan, the fund's $55,000-a-year director, who moved his operation to his Delaware home.

The police and fire unions are now running a new and improved Thrill Show, collecting $370,000 in September's first edition.

They want to work a compromise with the half-century-old Hero Scholarship Fund by merging and gaining access to the $3.28- million fund, built largely by cops and firefighters who for years peddled tickets to the old Thrill Show.

James Binns, a lawyer representing the two unions, said his clients hope for an amicable union but are prepared to fight it out in the courts to gain control of what they see as rightfully a city asset.

Councilman James Kenney, who set up and chaired yesterday's Law and Government Committee hearing, said he supports the union efforts.

But just how bad is the fund's customer relations?

In the last year, Kenney said he's had "yelling and screaming battles with Mr. Callaghan" in an attempt to learn why the fund has delayed, reduced or denied tuition payments to children of deceased city employees.

Or ask Cathy Redmond. She's the widow of John J. Redmond, the community leader and consummate firefighter, who perished while fighting a blaze in 1994. The Fire Department's top annual award is named in his honor. He left Cathy and four kids, ages 2 to 11.

One daughter made it all the way through the University of Scranton without a problem, but in the midst of another daughter's sophomore year at Rider University in 2004, and without warning, Redmond learned that the fund would pay only $8,800 in tuition as opposed to full tuition.

"All four of my children were promised a college education," she said. "All four of them have paid quite a price to receive that education. Neither they nor I should be made to beg or fight to have that promise kept nor should we have to endure this total disrespect for John's sacrifice to this city."

Kenney said he has a problem with the fund's limited amount of scholarship help and relatively high level of administrative expenses.

In 2005, the fund raised $422,000, spent $89,000 to put on the show, $217,000 on administration expenses and just $108,000 on scholarship aid to 14 students.

John McGrath, the fund's attorney, said the fund board had to limit scholarship aid, making it a "fund of last resort," to protect its ability to help future students.

And Ruth Sliwinski, the fund board chairwoman, sent her "condolences" to the widows and children for the "misunderstandings." She promised to take up the complaints at the fund's April 17 meeting. *