TOLLAND — For the third year in a row Leo Dennis, a ninth grader attending Southwick Regional School, has been awarded first place in Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 873’s annual essay contest.

“My mom told me about [the essay contest] and said, ‘You’re a good writer, why not give it a shot?’” Dennis said, describing how he first began entering the annual essay contest offered by VFWs throughout the country.

“I really enjoy reading and writing and my English classes, so I said, ‘Let’s see what happens,” Dennis, 15, said about the essay he wrote as a sixth grader.

From left, Voice of Democracy essay contest winner Leo Dennis is presented a check by Troy Henke of VFW Post 873. (Reminder Publishing submitted photo)

What happened on his first try was being awarded first place by the judges associated with Southwick-based Ransford W. Kellogg-General Knox VFW Post 873 in the Patriot’s Pen essay contest that is open to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

“The first year it was like wow, I did it,” Dennis said. The next year, he thought, “Now, let’s see if I can do better,” he said. Again, he took home the first-place prize and a check for $100.

With confidence from his back-to-back wins, he submitted an essay this year for the Voice of Democracy contest, which is open to students in grades 9-12.

And he brought home the top prize again, plus a check for $150. The theme was “What Are the Greatest Attributes of Our Democracy.” The essay can be read at bit.ly/rp27be.

For the Voice of Democracy contest, in addition to writing an essay, students must also record themselves reading it.

The VFW’s essay contest has two purposes: a chance for students to deepen their understanding of patriotism and U.S. history, and a chance to win scholarship money. The students that win at the local level have their essays submitted to the district level, and first and second place finishers qualify to compete at the state level.

The state winner is awarded $15,000 to be used for their education after high school and goes on to compete at the national level where the top prize is a $35,000 a year scholarship to the educational institution of their choice.

Dennis won third place at the district level on his first try at a sixth grader.

With three top prizes in his pocket, he will be setting his sights even higher next year.

“I’m really going to prepare for it next year,” said Dennis, who enjoys reading mystery novels “that keep you on the edge of your seat.” He proudly said that he’s read all 56 Sherlock Holmes stories.

Troy Henke, the chair of VFW Post 872 and also the state VFW junior vice chair, can take some of the credit for getting Dennis involved in the essay contest. Dennis said his and Henke’s family attend the same church, and it was Henke that told his mother about the contest.

Henke had high praise for Dennis, whose parents are Carolyn and Robert Dennis.

“He is extremely patriotic and an all-around good kid, and a credit to his country and school,” Henke said. “Getting to know him has been a real pleasure.”

cclark@thereminder.com | + posts