NORTH ANDOVER — It’s not uncommon for a father and son to go into business together.
But, John Willwerth and his son Matthew Willwerth of North Andover are following a somewhat different path. They’re attending Northern Essex Community College together — and winning scholarships while they’re at it.
John, 56, earned the J. Herbert Kimball & John Rogers Memorial Scholarship of $750 while his son earned $500 worth of help for his college expenses from the NECC Foundation Inc.
John, who goes by Jack and worked as a network manager for Verizon for many years before accepting early retirement in 2001, is looking forward to graduating with a nursing degree next May. He hopes to work in emergency care, he said.
Matthew, 22, graduated from North Andover High School in 2009. He aspires to make a living as an artist and is studying toward a degree in visual arts.
“Painting is my thing,” he said, adding that he does landscapes and portraits. After completing an associate’s degree at Northern Essex, he would like to study art at a four-year school, such as Massachusetts College of Arts and Design or the University of Vermont, he said.
“He got his artistic talent from his mother,” his father said. His mother, Denise Benincasa, works as an interior designer. She and Jack are divorced.
A traumatic event pushed Jack toward nursing, he said. Verizon, which had been reducing its management force, made him a generous early retirement offer, he said. The company gave him a year’s salary and he had an adequate 401K retirement account, he said.
So he accepted the offer because “I wanted to be home with the kids,” he said. Then he was afflicted with a life-threatening illness, necrotizing pancreatitis. He initially thought he was having a heart attack, he said, but it turned out that “my pancreas had started dying off.”