Barb and Brian Lutton with their children Katimay and Joey. Photo submitted.

Youngsville’s Lutton Overcomes Life’s Challenges to Pursue Degree at JCC

July 3, 2023

JAMESTOWN, NY – After her 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter are asleep for the night, Barb Lutton usually ventures to her church two blocks away in Youngsville. It is quiet, calm, perfect for studying.

She’s a student again, after all these years, pushing herself through SUNY Jamestown Community College’s demanding nursing program. Lutton is taking Microbiology this summer. It’s not always fun.

“Why am I doing this?” she said with a laugh. “I’m 50 years old for crying out loud.”

Lutton said she escapes to the church to avoid a cat that has a penchant for jumping on her lap. Maybe more, it’s a small break from a daily routine that is challenging to say the least.

Her life changed forever on May 15, 2018. On that Tuesday night, her husband Brian was coaching their son’s Little League baseball team when Brian collapsed on the field.

He suffered cardiac arrest and spent nearly two months in a hospital room in Pittsburgh. Brian’s heart continued to deteriorate, requiring a transplant, which he received via donation on March 19, 2020.

“I’ve been caring for him for the last five years,” said Lutton, who gave up substitute teaching and her “hometown dream” of coaching varsity volleyball at Youngsville High School to tend to her husband.

With Brian making a strong recovery, Lutton decided to start at JCC in the fall of 2022, though she “felt like I tried to come up with every excuse for why I couldn’t do it.”

The cost of school was a small factor. She finished two semesters before realizing she was eligible for veterans’ benefits. Brian served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division during Desert Storm and is disabled, so Lutton, a Pennsylvania resident, receives a monthly stipend and pays the in-state tuition rate.

She was also reimbursed for her first two semesters.

“I already have my bill paid for next semester,” Lutton said. “I don’t need student aid now because of this.”

Melissa Stormer, JCC’s Veterans coordinator, said dependent military benefits are determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs Education & Training.

Dependents may qualify for Chapter 35: Dependents Educational Assistance benefits, which are provided to children ages 18-26 or spouses of veterans who have a service-connected permanent disability, or died as a result of their military service.

A second benefit is the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, which is given to surviving children and spouses of any service member who died while on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001.

Like Lutton, out-of-state dependents may also qualify for New York state tuition.

Don Pool, JCC’s Accessibility Services coordinator and the college’s veterans and military club advisor, said 30 military dependents attended JCC this past academic year – the most since at least 2015-2016.

JCC benefits for dependents include the use of campus veterans’ lounges, eligibility to apply for the college’s Veterans Scholarship in memory of Traci Maybach, participation in the college’s student veterans clubs, and invitation to military-affiliated events on campus.

A professor, advisor, or maybe the nursing program administrative assistant – Lutton can’t recall for sure – alerted her to military-dependent benefit opportunities.

“Now I can upgrade from my children’s free school computer,” she said. “I can maybe invest in some nice equipment and not be so cheap about everything and make it happen.”

JCC isn’t new to Lutton. The former Barb Sanford played college volleyball and softball for coach Kathy Stedman and the Jayhawks from 1991-93. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Slippery Rock University, and she was a recreational therapist at WCA Hospital until 2014 when UPMC Chautauqua came in and deemed her position unnecessary.

“I decided I wanted to be a real nurse,” she said, “because I’ve been asked numerous times if I was a nurse.”

Lutton isn’t sure what a career in nursing will bring. Inspired by her husband, she said, “I definitely would like to lean toward organ recovery and Donate Life awareness and that whole process.”

Brian, a former officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, continues to fight through the post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from his combat service in the Middle East – he was 70 percent disabled before the cardiac arrest. On top of that, his memory is poor and he struggles with some everyday tasks.

But his new heart is strong. And so is his wife’s.

“We’ve had one miracle after another,” Lutton says. “We’re not stopping now.”

To learn more about college military benefits, visit sunyjcc.edu/military and va.gov/education/survivor-dependent-benefits.

For more information on Donate Life America, go to donatelife.net.

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