Col. Paul D. LaFond firmly believed that the greatest gift that could be given to a veteran was a college education.

More than a year after he died at the age of 89, his family is honoring his legacy with a community college scholarship to send Maine veterans to school — including reservists, who don’t qualify for full benefits under the GI Bill.

The LaFond family donated $50,000 to the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges to establish the Col. Paul D. LaFond Veterans Scholarship in honor of their father’s career in the Marine Corps and service in three wars.

The donation was matched by the Maine Community College System, so $2,500 scholarships can be provided to as many as 40 veterans next fall, said Geoff LaFond, one of LaFond’s three sons. Five applications have been received so far.

“After returning home from three wars, our father witnessed firsthand the importance of continuing education to veterans rebuilding their lives after service to their country, a cause he remained committed to throughout his career and into retirement,” said Geoff LaFond.

Paul LaFond, a longtime resident of Skowhegan, left Bowdoin College before graduation to enlist in the Marines during World War II. He received the Silver Star for gallantry in action during the battle of Okinawa.

Years later, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation and three combat decorations for his service in Vietnam.

Between his service in the Korean and Vietnam wars, LaFond earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.

“He was tickled pink to have the opportunity to graduate,” Geoff LaFond said.

Paul LaFond spent many years lobbying colleges and universities across New England to expand educational opportunities for veterans.

“He had seen the sacrifices these men and women endure and believed strongly that every veteran deserves the promise of a future made possible through a continuing education,” Geoff LaFond said.

Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons said the scholarship is “a wonderful way for the LaFond family to honor their father,” whom he called a “Marine’s Marine.”

“At a time when so many Maine service men and women are returning from war and are in need of skills to find a new career, this scholarship will make a significant different in their lives,” Fitzsimmons said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian