West York teen raises thousands for vets

Sean Philip Cotter

Matthew Ott knows it's unlikely he'll raise $1 million over the next couple of months for local veterans, but that isn't stopping the 15-year-old from trying.

Matthew Ott,  15 of West York, is raising money for veterans in honor of his mother Army Spc. E-4 Patricia Suella Ott, who passed away Jan. 8, 2001. 
Tuesday Feb. 16, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

"It's $10 from 100,000 people," he said.

After all, the number is less intimidating when you break it down.

However much he raises he'll present to the Lebanon VA at the York Revolution game May 30. Matthew wants the money to go to the women's center, medical services and direct support, he said.

Matthew Ott,  15 of West York, is raising money for veterans in honor of his mother Army Spc. E-4 Patricia Suella Ott, who passed away Jan. 8, 2001. 
Tuesday Feb. 16, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

On Monday night, a few days after kicking off the campaign with an hour on Gary Sutton's local radio show Friday, he'd raised more than $1,100, likely with some checks in the mail, he figured.

When asked what drives him to continually raise money for veterans causes, he pointed across the dinner table at his father, John Ott, who laughed and waved him off.

"I just make some of the calls for him," John Ott said.

John Ott says the campaign, like Matthew's previous efforts, is really the brainchild of the younger Ott. Both are enthusiastic about it and plan to keep talking to the media and community members as much as possible to keep promoting the campaign.

Matthew's very comfortable with media attention. He's given "30 or 40" interviews to various outlets over the past four years, he and his father estimate. It's no longer a big deal; now it's more just part of the game, a thing he logically has to do to achieve his goals.

"What motivates me is definitely the thought of my mother," he said.

Matthew's matter-of-fact, and willing to speak his mind, but he has some of the basic answers down pretty rote.

He was a baby when his mother, Army Spc. E-4 Patricia Suella Ott, died Jan. 8, 2001, of an unknown illness.

"When I was 9, I started asking questions about my mom," Matthew said. And his father, Spc. E-5 John Ott, answered them.

John and Patricia Ott. submitted photo

Matthew worked a lemonade stand that year, raising $53.75, which he gave to local veterans.

He ran lemonade stands several more years, raising thousands of dollars over time. At one point he gave almost $10,000 to a couple of local veterans, he said.

"He keeps the memory of my wife alive," John Ott said.

The media noticed Matthew a couple of years in, when he was 11, so he's been doing interviews for several years. He doesn't even watch TV interviews of himself anymore. Monday evening was the first time he'd seen an interview he gave to ABC27 last week, when he met Senate candidate Joe Sestak at an event at the Spring Grove VFW post.

Joe Sestak, a former Navy admiral and congressman, left,  talks with Matthew Ott, 15, of West York, during a Feb. 10, 2016, campaign stop at VFW Post 5265 in Spring Grove. Matthew is trying to raise $1 million for Veteran's Challenge. (John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

The only time he really batted an eyelash during the whole thing was when the video cut to a still photo of his mom with a mostly undressed baby Matthew in a stroller.

"Didn't know that was in there," he muttered, drawing a chuckle from his father, who had provided the photo.

John Ott always makes sure to catch coverage of his son; he'll go back and rewatch old interviews from time to time, too.

Right now, Matthew's a sophomore at West York Area High School. He plans on going to college, eventually ending up "somewhere in the medical field."

He likely wouldn't be able to join the military, he and his father said. He has reflex sympathetic dystrophy, also known as conplex regional pain syndrome, a rare neurological condition that's very painful.

Father and son live in a newly bought brick home in West York; “it’s the one with the flag out front,” said the elder Ott as part of his directions on how to get there. Flapping in the West York snow Monday evening, that American flag was far from where it'd previously flown: Afghanistan.

It was given to Matthew by one of the several veterans to whom he's given money over the years.

Anyone who wants to donate can mail a check or money to them at 2222 W. Market St., York, PA 17404, or visit the Veterans Challenge Facebook page and give via PayPal on there.

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com.