LAKELAND, Fla. -- A Lakeland college student is mourning the loss of a friend she met while working on an eighth-grade class project. She is also asking for the public's help to pay for his funeral.

  • Lakeland college student raising funds for veteran's funeral
  • Emily Cornelius befriended vet Willie Dread when he was homeless
  • Cornelius helped Dread get back on his feet
  • GoFundMe page for Willie Dread's funeral

Emily Cornelius befriended homeless Vietnam vet Willie Dread after she ventured back into a wooded area off of Memorial Blvd. called the Chinese Jungle. She was with a group doing an annual count of homeless people and she was working on a project about homeless vets. 

“About how thankful he was by just something very little,” Cornelius said about what she admired about Dread. 

Cornelius and her mother would often visit Dread in the woods on birthdays and holidays. He would come to her high school softball games. She also accompanied him on an “honor flight” for veterans to Washington, D.C.

“He was walking faster than me to get to the memorial sites,” she said. “He loved it more than anything.”

Cornelius, her mother, and some other people eventually helped Dread get his own apartment. But he died on July 31st after a fall.

“I’ll miss his good heart and all his stories,” Cornelius said. 

Cornelius is now attempting to raise four thousand dollars to pay for a proper funeral for Dread. She said he didn’t want to be cremated. She wants to make sure Dread is buried in a cemetery for veterans. 

UPDATE: The service will be held at Coney Funeral Home, 1404 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Lakeland, on Aug. 14 at 10 a.m. An escort of motorcycles and 21-gun salute will follow. The escort will go to Bushnell Veterans Cemetery.

If you would like to donate, click here

This site is not managed by Bay News 9. For more information on how the site works and the rules visit