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Posted June 7, 2007

A Success our grade schoolers should reduplicate a wonderful way of appreciating history and the sacrifice of those who have made our history one of peace

Missouri students find service to vets leads to lasting friendships

By Barbara Watkins

FLORISSANT, Mo. (CNS) -- What started out as a service project for students at Sacred Heart School in Florissant has grown into a lasting friendship with residents of nearby Missouri Veterans Home in Bellefontaine Neighbors.

During the 2006-07 school year, the sixth, seventh and eighth grades each visited the Missouri Veterans Home, one of seven state-operated facilities administered by the Missouri Veterans Commission.

"Veterans have set the ultimate example of service," said Sacred Heart middle-school religion teacher Kerry B. Sprimont. "What they did they did for people they knew they would never meet."

When the Sacred Heart students visited, they played games with the residents, shared lunch, did crafts and heard the experiences of the senior citizens, many of whom had served in World War II or other conflicts.

"The students spent much of their time visiting with the residents and listening to their stories and experiences," said Sprimont. "The students were really excited about going and they wanted to go back again."

The veterans were equally excited. "One of the residents said, 'You've visited us three times. When are we going to visit you' So Sacred Heart School invited them to celebrate Mass with us and join us for coffee, doughnuts and entertainment," Sprimont told the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

When the veterans came calling in March, Father Edward Stanger, Sacred Heart pastor, celebrated an all-school Mass in the church. Then the veterans and the middle-school students, accompanied by teachers, visited together in the school cafeteria. Students entertained the vets with selections from the musical "Annie," the school's spring musical. They celebrated the 100th birthday of World War II veteran Eric Ragan.

"It was very nice," said Ragan, who turned 100 April 15. "They sang 'Happy Birthday,' gave me a cake and a funny hat and a spiritual bouquet. And they said they'd do the same thing next year."

Ragan's wife, Ruth, was also on hand. "It was a lovely affair. The kids were fascinated with the fellows. The gentlemen sat at different tables and the students asked questions and waited on them. They can't fathom what it was like that many years ago."

"They were surprised I rode a horse to school," Eric Ragan said.

The Sacred Heart students said they learned a lot from their visits with the veterans.

"It was fun to go speak with the veterans and talk to them about their experiences," said eighth-grader Kevin O'Meara. "I think that they felt good to be able to talk to people that wanted to listen."

Lizzie Fitzpatrick, another eighth-grader, said it was "really interesting to hear about their stories of service to our country. I also found it rewarding to see how much they enjoy life. We could all take a lesson from them."

Sprimont said both the students and the veterans seemed to enjoy the visit to Sacred Heart.

"If they are happy, I'm happy," he said. "We plan to do something with the Missouri Veterans Home every year as part of our middle-school service project and with the Florissant branch" of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.