Casper 17-Year-Old Places 2nd In Nation In VFW Voice Of Democracy Essay Contest

Casper’s Ella Catchpole took second place nationally in the VFW Voice of Democracy essay contest and pocketed $21,000 for college. She credits being the daughter of a U.S. Marine in better understanding government and its impact on people.

Dale Killingbeck

March 17, 20244 min read

Casper high school senior Ella Catchpole recently took home a $21,000 VFW scholarship as the second-place winner nationally in the VFW's Voice of Democracy essay contest.
Casper high school senior Ella Catchpole recently took home a $21,000 VFW scholarship as the second-place winner nationally in the VFW's Voice of Democracy essay contest. (Photo Courtesy Fred Catchpole)

CASPER — Older generations are quick to lament how young people these days lack appreciation for the sacrifices made to secure America’s freedom and the patriotism that inspires.

Ella Catchpole, a 17-year-old senior at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper busts that stereotype in a big way.

The daughter of a U.S. Marine Corps officer, Catchpole put that patriotism to paper for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy essay contest. Hers was judged Wyoming’s best, then earlier this month she presented her essay in Washington, D.C., placing second in the nation and winning $21,000 for college.

Catchpole said being in Washington with essay winners from every state in the union and a few independent students was a special experience. And she got to see some of the historical sights that inspire and represent U.S. patriotism.

“We got to go on a White House tour, to Mount Vernon, to Arlington National Cemetery, and then we went to all the monuments and museums,” she said. “It was super cool.”

As the daughter of a U.S. Marine, her life experiences have already taken her to several parts of the nation and world. She said those helped as she considered putting her thoughts on paper for a 3- to 5-minute audio-essay script on the theme “What Are the Greatest Attributes of Our Democracy.”

Catchpole said she highlighted the nation’s “separation of powers,” “freedom of the press” and “belief and faith in our democratic processes and institutions” as the core attributes that make the United States unique in the world.

Marine Corps Family

“I grew up in a Marine Corps family, so I was able to see firsthand the impact that the government can have on us,” she said. “Like the separation of powers that I talked about in my essay.”

As a 10-year-old, Catchpole said her family lived in Germany and took the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. That experience gave her perspective that fueled her feelings on government power in her essay.

“Adolf Hitler was a cruel dictator who had all of the power to himself,” she wrote. “He used that power to capture, contain and brutally murder millions of innocent people. Walking through that camp made me incredibly grateful that separation of powers exists in America to ensure that this cannot happen in America.”

As a student in a journalism class at Kelly Walsh, Catchpole said she has gained understanding about the role of the press and the importance of people being able to voice their opinions. She wrote that the role of the press in America and under the Constitution’s First Amendment “helps balance the power and keep our government leaders accountable.”

Catchpole’s last point in her essay on “belief and faith in our democratic institutions and processes” came from her assertion that people need to have an opportunity to vote and have open “dialogue” with elected officials.

“While our nation has had its challenges over the course of our 247-year history and while we have lots of differences in our nation, all our citizens must believe that our processes and institutions are both fair and critical to our democracy’s health and success,” she wrote. “We must ensure this continues over the next 247 years by ensuring our leaders are held accountable. This is done through active participation, a free and open press, and morally and ethically strong leaders.”

Proud Father

Catchpole’s father, Fred Catchpole said he was “excited” when his daughter decided to apply for the scholarship, and thankful for the VFW for encouraging young people to express their patriotism.

“I’m really proud that they provide the sponsorship for this scholarship,” he said. “It’s highly important for these younger and future generations to be engaged and full members of our democracy.”

Ella Catchpole’s essay entry was sponsored by VFW Post 9439 and its auxiliary in Casper. Her $21,000 scholarship is named after the late journalist and TV correspondent Charles Kuralt.

Ella Catchpole said her college plans include attending the University of Wyoming and studying kinesiology with a goal of becoming a physical therapist. As a member of the Kelly Walsh varsity tennis and Nordic ski teams, she has been on the receiving end of that career field’s expertise.

Her next big competition will be on the stage as an Irish dancer.

“I’m actually headed to Scotland for the world championships next weekend,” she said.

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.