Local Schools

Topeka grade school hosts Veterans Day assembly

Most Pure Heart of Mary third grader Karoline Davis sits with her father, Albert Davis, after the Veterans Day assembly. Davis was one of more than 40 veterans with ties to the parish or school who joined the students for a Veterans Day assembly. He serves as a Sergeant First Class in the Army. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — A single place setting on a white place mat with a napkin.

An upside-down glass.

An empty chair. 

Those are a few items that students at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Topeka placed on a table as part of a ceremony to honor fallen soldiers or those missing in action. The ceremony was one part of what is believed to be the school’s first Veterans Day assembly held in the gym on Nov. 11.

More than 40 veterans with connections to the school or parish participated. Hosted by the students, the assembly included patriotic musical selections by the school band and choir, a video tribute featuring pictures submitted by some of the veterans, and a short speech by Rachel Anderson, the school’s band teacher and technology coordinator. Anderson serves in the Army National Guard as the Executive Officer of the 35th Infantry Division Band.

Rachel Anderson, the band teacher and technology coordinator at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Topeka, gave a short speech at the school’s Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 11. Anderson serves in the Army National Guard as the Executive Officer of the 35th Infantry Division Band. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Additionally, at one end of the gym, the school created a wall of stars with more than 400 names of men and women from the parish or school who have served or are serving in the military. The school also collected personal care items like shampoo and toothpaste for those serving in the Middle East with the 2-130th Field Artillery Battalion of the Kansas Army National Guard. Among those is Mike Rumford, father of fourth grader Brenna and kindergartner Bowe.

In her speech, Anderson told the students, veterans and parents, “I joined the Kansas Army National Guard in 2006, and honestly, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Sharing the history of Veterans Day, Anderson said the holiday began as Armistice Day and was created to honor the exact time when World War I officially ended in 1918, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

President Woodrow Wilson’s intention, Anderson said, “was to create a lasting peace after the war by remembering and honoring the sacrifices the military made during World War I.”

Students at Most Pure Heart of Mary participate in a Veterans Day assembly. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Kansas has special ties to Veterans Day.

“It was [citizens of] Emporia, Kansas, who initiated the idea that Armistice Day be changed to Veterans Day to recognize and honor all veterans from all conflicts and wars,” Anderson said. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law, and the first nationwide remembrance of Veterans Day was Nov. 11, 1954.

If they knew any veterans, Anderson told the students in conclusion, “You can be very proud of them today and every day. Many of them have given much to keep us safe and free.”

Near the end of the assembly, eighth graders Kian Kennedy and Noah Stewart read the names of the veterans in attendance.

But it was the ceremony to honor the fallen soldiers or those missing in action that seemed to move students and veterans alike.

Often part of weddings, military balls and other formal occasions, the White Table ceremony consists of placing a small table somewhere in the room as a reminder of the solider who will not be able to attend the occasion. The table is then covered with a white tablecloth to “honor a soldier’s pure heart when he answers his country’s call to duty” and then decorated with items, all replete with meaning. For example, an empty chair is pushed next to the table “for the missing soldiers who are not here” while an upside-down glass symbolizes the meal which will not be enjoyed.

A Most Pure Heart of Mary student places a rose on an empty table, a symbol of the men and women who never made it home from service. LEAVEN PHOTO BY MARC ANDERSON

Eighth grade students, along with their second grade math and book buddies, prepared the table, while eighth grader Megan Thummel read out the significance of each item, saying it was her favorite part of the assembly.

Stewart agreed.

“The White Table was pretty cool because of what it symbolizes,” he said. It was important to honor veterans because “they’re risking their lives to keep our country safe.”

Veteran Rory Pischer, who served in the Navy from 2006 to 2010 as a Petty Officer Third Class, agreed.

Rory is married to Britta Pischer who teaches seventh grade. Together, the couple has four children, three of them students: sixth grader Izzy; third grader Gabby; and kindergartner Kayla.

Although he enjoyed the entire assembly, he thought the White Table ceremony was important because “it educated those who didn’t know.”

Likewise, veteran Mike Ahlstedt, who served 12 years in the Air National Guard and whose youngest son Jason is an eighth grader, said he appreciated the efforts the kids undertook to make veterans feel special.

“I thought it was outstanding,” he said. “It’s nice as a school that they all come together for a common purpose: to recognize veterans. . . . Most veterans are humble. This is not why we do it, but it’s still appreciated.”

About the author

Marc & Julie Anderson

Freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson are long-time contributors to the Leaven. Married in 1996, for several years the high school sweethearts edited The Crown, the former newspaper of Christ the King Parish in Topeka which Julie has attended since its founding in 1977. In 2000, the Leaven offered the couple their first assignment. Since then, the Andersons’ work has also been featured in a variety of other Catholic and prolife media outlets. The couple has received numerous journalism awards from the Knights of Columbus, National Right to Life and the Catholic Press Association including three for their work on “Think It’s Not Happening Near You? Think Again,” a piece about human trafficking. A lifelong Catholic, Julie graduated from Most Pure Heart of Mary Grade School and Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. Marc was received into the Catholic Church in 1993 at St. Paul Parish – Newman Center at Wichita State University. The two hold degrees from Washburn University in Topeka. Their only son, William James, was stillborn in 1997.

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