BELDING — They say an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
For Belding High School senior Elizabeth Wittenbach, having grown up on an apple orchard farmed by her father, that analogy couldn’t be more appropriate.
Growing up on a farm with 225 acres of apple trees, farmed originally by her grandfather, Ed Wittenbach, and now by her father, Mike Wittenbach, Elizabeth is the third generation of her family to call the orchard home.
That’s why, when enrolling at Michigan State University (MSU) this fall at the James Madison College, it comes as no surprise that she will pursue a degree in international relations or comparative cultures, with an interest in agriculture and farming.
A tall task for a young girl from the country to take on, but Elizabeth’s most recent accomplishment leaves little doubt that she has what it takes to leave the farm and meet her next level of education head on.
Elizabeth was just recognized as a National Merit Scholar winner, an honor given to few of the original 1.5 million who entered the scholarship competition.
Of that 1.5 million, she is one of just 8,300 students to receive the award, and the only student from Ionia or Montcalm counties to even be selected as a semifinalist.
Elizabeth’s scholarship is a National Merit Michigan State University Scholarship, sponsored by MSU. Belding High School Principal Brett Zuver said he couldn’t be prouder to have a student like Elizabeth representing Belding.
“Elizabeth is a young lady who really exemplifies what a true student can be at the high school level,” Zuver said. “She’s just that type of kid you never have to worry about and I wish we could have a school full of students like her.”
For Elizabeth, the award comes as a mild shock, as the art of perfection has remained consistent for the student who has never strayed below a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school.
“School is something that I’ve always liked and I’m kind of a perfectionist,” she said. “Knowing the test involved a good amount of math, I thought I had a chance to be a semifinalist. It’s very exciting.”
Elizabeth’s other activities in high school include playing clarinet in the marching and concert bands, serving as president of National Honor Society and participating in Business Professionals of America, where she took first place in the state in the category of fundamental accounting and then competed at nationals in Chicago.
“I definitely discovered that I actually like accounting,” she said. “I can see myself doing something with that in the future, possibly studying the business side of agriculture and fruit farming.”
Elizabeth attributes her excellent grades and achievements to an example set by her parents and a lot of studying.
“I study a lot,” she said. “Home has always been a place I can turn to because a lot of times I don’t get my work done in class because of all the stuff going on. I’ve never been athletic really, so that’s where I excel is in schoolwork.”
Her father said he sees a little of himself and Elizabeth’s mother, Marnie Wittenbach, in her accomplishments as a student.
“I tell people she got her smarts from her mother and her self-drive from her father and the two of them have been a great combination for her,” he said.
Having watched his daughter grow up, always been eager to take advanced placement courses including calculus and literature, Mike said he couldn’t be more proud.
“We’re extremely proud,” he said. “She’s worked hard at it and it has always been a desire of hers to do well. Being an MSU graduate myself, I’m excited she’s going to MSU.”
Zuver said whatever Elizabeth chooses to do, she will end up being successful.
“I’ve got no doubt, whatever she decides to pursue and do, she’s going to give it her full effort and energy and she will be very, very successful in whatever path she chooses.”