Caledonia — Senior Brody Woodwyk recently was accepted to Michigan State University, where he plans to study criminal justice, join the Army ROTC program and, eventually, enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “(My family has) always been MSU fans, but I never really thought of it as a place that I could go.”
Inspired by his dad, who served in the Army before going to work for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, Brody said he’s felt called to join the military since he was a kid.
“I watched (my dad) put on his work uniform and he’d take me to the airport to watch fighter jets take off,” he said. “Since I was a child, I’ve had a connection to the military.”
Brody’s history teacher, Heather Tornes, has a similar connection to the military, through her husband who served and through her passion for making space in her classroom for veterans to share their stories.
After attending the annual Armed Forces Thanksgiving Luncheon in Grand Rapids this past May, Brody said he felt moved by veterans’ stories and challenged to do something in his community to honor those who served.
Honoring Past, Future Veterans
Brody’s idea included a rough design for a veterans memorial at CHS to honor graduates who served or are currently serving in the military.
Tornes said in her 25 years of teaching at the high school, there has never been something constructed to honor veterans, and thinks it is long overdue.
Referencing a digital mock-up of the proposed memorial, yet to be shared, Brody explained how his original design evolved.
“The six plaques will honor all branches of the military, and the shadow box honors those who have fallen or passed away after their service,” he said. “A touch screen TV will show all graduates from Caledonia who serve, and hopefully we can get it to show their awards, creating a database of graduates who have served their country.”
Tornes estimates the current design will cost upwards of $10,000 to build.
“With my design, I … didn’t want to make it so expensive we couldn’t raise the funds,” Brody said.
He is working with Tornes and the school’s PTO to find sponsors and will host a fundraiser at an upcoming home basketball game. Brody also designed a T-shirt to sell leading up to the “Honoring Our Heroes” basketball game on Jan. 9 against Hudsonville.
“We came up with the idea to do a fundraiser for the memorial … but it kind of blew my mind when they asked me to do the design,” he said. “I didn’t really expect my name to be on anything. I just wanted this wall up.”
The shirts can be purchased online, and ordering by Dec. 21 ensures delivery before Jan. 8. All proceeds will directly fund the memorial.
CHS students can get free admission to the game if they wear the T-shirt and present a valid ID.
Brody said he feels proud of the memorial’s momentum and all the support it’s received from the school and community.
Tornes added that their goal is have the plans get close to being a reality before Brody graduates this spring.
“I hope (the memorial) brings the community close,” Brody said. “When CHS students and those coming up see it, I hope they remember those who have served and remember the meaning of their uniforms.”
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