The well-known twinkle in his eye was working overtime before Irwin Stovroff got to do something he never did before at 92.
“I’m still making news,” he said, jokingly, wearing academic garb before joining the procession at one of Florida Atlantic University’s commencement ceremonies.
With his golden retriever Cash by his side, Boca Raton’s celebrated World War II POW and wounded warrior benefactor received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from FAU president John Kelly and provost Gary Perry on April 30.
He was also the graduation speaker in a packed auditorium seating 2,400 grads and their families.
Sitting in a chair on stage, he told how the number of combat missions kept growing from 25 to 35 for a young Air Force 2nd lieutenant and bombardier. How he flew over Normandy in the D-Day invasion, and later had to bail out of a B-24 and was captured by the Nazis.
“I had to get of rid of my dog tags before they identified me as Jewish,” he said.
He talked about the terror of having a Nazi officer know exactly who he was, since he was raised in the same town.
“You were my parents’ newspaper boy,” the Nazi told him.
He even survived a German POW camp taken over by the Russians and had to wait out a prisoner swap.
After he came back stateside, Stovroff married and had a family and went on to a busy business career, he said.
But when he retired at 75, he started working in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Riviera Beach and discovered vets needed help they weren’t getting from the government. He started Vets Helping Heroes, and with his board and donors, has raised $4.5 million to pay for trained guide and service dogs for more than 400 military wounded.
“The dogs are not inexpensive and cost $10,000 for PTSD or $60,000 for someone who is blind,” he said.
All of this was part of his “flight plan,” Stovroff told the grads.
“Stay with your flight plan for the goals you have in life and put them up as high as you can, so when you reach up they’ll be there for you.”
The crowd gave Stovroff a standing ovation and roared their approval. Kelly called him inspiring, which prompted even more applause.
FAU graduated the largest class in its history, Kelly told the grads earlier.
“At our seven spring commencement ceremonies, we’re celebrating the graduation of 3,268 students,” from 52 countries, he noted. The student body is the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse in the Florida State University System, he said.
Marci Shatzman firstname.lastname@example.org
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