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Uncle in Navy Surprises Student to Thank Her

Allie Wilbur knew she was getting an award at the monthly Page Elementary character assembly, but what she didn’t know was that her Uncle Jeff Wilbur was going to be home from Afghanistan to give it to her.

“I didn’t know that he was coming,” said Allie, 11, who hadn’t seen her uncle in two years when she turned to see him walk in the door of the school cafeteria for the assembly.  “I was kind of in shock. I felt like I was going to cry.”Allie gets a hug from her proud mom, Angie Wilbur

Earlier this year, Allie had taken on a project for her birthday. Instead of gifts, she asked for goodies to fill a box to send to her Uncle Jeff and his U.S. Navy comrades stationed in Afghanistan. The box filled with crackers, Girl Scout cookies, popcorn, drink mixes, peanuts, word search books, pens, and bracelets made by Allie, was sent out in mid-March.

Jeff Wilbur said it’s not uncommon to get care packages in the service, but Allie’s struck his group as special. “It was unique because it came from one person who was a child, without any help or any support,” he said. “That made it even more special.”

Before the assembly, Allie had received an American flag that was flown in her honor during a combat mission originating from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on March 27, 2014. With it was a letter and certificate from her uncle’s commanding officer thanking her for her gift.

Allie is the daughter of Angie and Chad Wilbur. Her mom described her as a humble girl, who doesn’t think her efforts were a big deal. “She has a kind heart that will take her many places as she gets older,” Wilbur wrote to Principal Mike Gelmi, who helped arrange the event.

Except for Allie’s mom, relatives and a few school staff, the event was a surprise.

Allie’s grandparents, Gary and Dottie Wilbur of Nashville, were there with tears in their eyes. “We’re very, very proud of our son and our grand-daughter,” Gary Wilbur said. “She’s a special, little girl.”

Allie Wilbur didn’t know her Uncle Jeff Wilbur would be home from Afghanistan for her high school assemblyJeff Wilbur is home for good from overseas deployments. He plans to return to work at the Hasting Community Education and Recreation Center and pursue a degree in engineering.

This wasn’t the first time Allie took in on herself to “pay it forward.”  When she was 10, for her birthday she collected items for the local animal shelter.

Childhood cancer research will be the cause Allie plans to aid with donations next year, and she’s already got a start on raising funds: After hearing about her gift to her uncle, a donor gave her $250 for her next project.


Thornapple Kellogg Schools

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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