Peter W. Foote Memorial Scholarship Fund Remembers a Local Hero’s Legacy

Joseph Ames partnered with BTCF on a scholarship to "make an impact in Pete’s name, and Berkshire Taconic has ensured this will happen in perpetuity.”

Peter Foote became a small-town hero following his death in Vietnam. The North Adams native was killed by sniper fire on Jan. 30, 1968, while saving the life of a fellow soldier in Tuy Hoa — a selfless act for which he was posthumously awarded both a Purple Heart and Silver Medal, the second-highest military decoration behind the Medal of Honor. He was 20 years old.

Foote was an ordinary kid. He grew up on Lawrence Avenue and attended the former Mark Hopkins Elementary School where he met his best friend Joseph Ames. The two boys, pictured side-by-side on the front steps of the school in various class pictures, grew to be very close.

In the fall of 1961, they started high school together. Each morning, the pair made the trek up Church Street on foot talking about everything from girlfriends to algebra tests and myriad topics in between. At Drury, “Footey” was a three-sport athlete, donning the Blue Devils jersey in basketball, baseball and football. On the gridiron, he and Ames were teammates — quarterback and fullback, respectively.

Following graduation, in June 1965, Foote enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he played backup quarterback to Greg Landry (the Detroit Lions’ first-round draft pick the following year). Ames has fond memories of traveling to UMass with his friend’s father, Edward, to watch a spring scrimmage before Foote enlisted in basic training to become an airborne paratrooper; in March of 1967, he was sent to Vietnam.

Ames still remembers the last time he saw his friend. It was one o’clock in the morning, just hours before Footey was scheduled to fly out of Albany, and it was raining. After an evening out in town, the two young men were walking home together — just as they had for a dozen years or more.

“We said goodbye, right in front of his house,” recalls Ames. “And that was it.”

Ten months later, Foote was killed during the early hours of North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive; according to the last letter Ames received, his friend had just 53 days left to go in his deployment.

Ames immediately set to work organizing a memorial scholarship in honor of Foote. He sought donations from local shop owners and organized an alumni basketball game, filling the armory on Ashland Street and raising the lion’s share of funds needed to establish the original annuity. The scholarship was first presented in June 1968 to the best student athlete at Drury High School.

“I wanted the scholarship to go on after I was gone,” said Ames, which is why, after 55 years, he sought the help of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.

“Every once in a while I’d have to do a fundraiser, and I didn’t want to bother folks for donations any more,” he said, citing the biggest benefit to date of partnering with BTCF to manage the fund. “I was investing thousands, BTCF invests millions — giving us access to a professionally managed portfolio,” Ames said of the annual award that’s grown from $50 for one student to $1,000 for two.

Despite the decades since his death, Foote’s memory is alive and well. In May 2010, the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink was rededicated in his honor.

“I gave the eulogy that I never got to give for my best friend,” said Ames, who spoke before a crowd of 100 community members that day while the Drury High School band played the national anthem. (After volunteering for the draft, Ames had to delay his own departure for Fort Dix by a month in order to attend Foote’s funeral.)

Today, the Peter W. Foote Memorial Scholarship Fund remembers a local hero’s legacy — one marked by leadership, humility and putting others first. “The whole mission was to make an impact in Pete’s name, and Berkshire Taconic has ensured this will happen in perpetuity.”

Make a gift to the Peter W. Foote Memorial Scholarship Fund