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Remembering their sacrifice

Students honor vets with visits, thank-yous

Proudly dressed in a U.S. Marine Corps uniform purchased by her grandfather, David Puckett, Zinser Elementary fourth grader Layla Haynes and her classmates explored stations on all things military, during the fourth annual youth Veterans Day Student Education Program at American Legion Post 179 in Walker.

She was one of hundreds of fourth and fifth graders from Zinser, in Kenowa Hills — along with Grandville’s Cummings, Central and South elementary students — who took part in the Nov. 11 event organized by Jena Wilmers, who served in the Michigan Army National Guard for six years.

Zinser Elementary students, from left, Layla Haynes and far right, Emerson Raymond pose with Jena Wilmers, organizer of the youth Veterans Day program at American Legion Post 179 in Walker

“Our mission is to teach these kids about history and to instill a sense of patriotism and Americanism,” Wilmers said.

Around Kent County, students from several districts were fulfilling that mission, learning about the armed forces and honoring veterans with cards, visits, songs and poems.

At the Walker post, students learned about military history characters and events through re-enactors portrayed by American Legion members. Wilmers wrote the scripts for characters at each station, like Rosie the Riveter, who represented the millions of women who worked in factories and shipyards during World Wars I and II; Mathew Brady, a civil war photographer famous for taking the profile picture of Abraham Lincoln on the penny; and Moina Michael, who came up with the idea for using red poppies as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in World War I.

The West Michigan Round Table Association  displayed uniforms from Vietnam through present day, as well as memorabilia, artifacts and weapons.

“I like that we’re honoring the ones who have served and fought for our country,” said Zinser fifth grader Emerson Raymond.

Byron Center students adorned the gymnasium walls with pictures

Connecting Schools and Veterans

At Countryside Elementary School, in Byron Center, students lifted their voices in song and presented poems during a special ceremony for nearly 90 veterans with ties to the school.

The ceremony, a 10-year tradition, is a way to honor and value local vets, and a demonstration of the schools’ focus on character, said Principal Jo Dobson. It features songs by the school choir and a presentation of the flag by Cub Scout Group 3250.

Denny Schneider, a veteran who served during the 1960s, has attended every year. “The kids are so respectful and polite. You really feel honored,” he said.

The Thornapple Kellogg community also honored those who have served during its ninth annual Veterans Day program.

More than 40 veterans visited Thornapple Kellogg High School for the program led by Advanced Placement U.S. History students. The event included student speeches as well as Ivan Ploeg, the Honored Veteran of the Year, whose daughter, Carla VanHaitsma, spoke on his behalf. Ploeg enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp in 1955.

Ploeg will be the grand marshal in the Middleville Memorial Day parade and will be able to attend the Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C.

Sharing Thank-Yous

In Lowell Area Schools, Alto Elementary students made hundreds of Veterans Day cards for hospitalized vets in Grand Rapids. 

“Our kids enjoy learning about the different freedoms that we have that people in other countries don’t have,” said Carla Wobma, third grade teacher. “Because of the sacrifice of veterans, we can vote, we can go to the church we want to go to, we can wear the clothes we want to wear, we can live where we want to live.”

Third grader Brayden Parker is ready to deliver cards to vets

In Wyoming, Oriole Park Elementary students from teachers Laura Sluys and Sheri Adams’ classes also created cards and delivered them to veterans at the Wyoming VA clinic. Students handed out 145 cards, sharing messages like, “You are brave,” and “Thank you for your service.” 

Sluys, a special education teacher, connects her students with veterans as an annual service learning project. She received a $500 grant from the American Legion Auxiliary 459 to pay for card materials. 

Each year, her students also create valentines for vets in February, as well as birthday cards. They also collect personal care items and diabetic socks.

Third grader Aurora Coffman summed up the spirit of the students at Oriole Park: “It’s for veterans — to say thank you.”

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.

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