Photo by Kelly White
Stagg High School student Nick Strenk, 15, of Palos Hills, and his uncle, Vietnam War veteran Nick Pappalas, of Palos Hills, attended Stagg High School's Veterans Luncheon together last Thursday afternoon at the school in Palos Hills.
By Kelly White
Local teens took time to honor and reflect on our nation’s heroes.
Thanks to Stagg’s Student Council Veterans Luncheon last Thursday at the school, 8015 W. 111th St., Palos Hills, students and veterans were able to enjoy an afternoon filled with good food, heartfelt stories, and each others’ company.
"This event is a unique way to honor veterans that our school community have a connection to,” said Kinga Toczylowski, 17, of Hickory Hills. “It is a special moment for veterans and students alike. As students, we are able to honor the veterans for their bravery and show that though many of us did not live through the events in which they fought, their efforts and sacrifices are appreciated across generations and will not be forgotten. This luncheon gives us the opportunity to truly express our gratitude."
The event was free and welcomed in more than 80 veterans, including those who have served or are currently serving in any branch of the Armed Forces, along with their families and caretakers. In attendance at the event with his nephew was Vietnam War Air Force ceteran who served from 1969-70, Nick Pappalas.
“ I think it’s great that Stagg High School puts together this event every year,” said Pappalas, of Palos Hills. “It is a privilege to be acknowledged.”
“ This is also a way to honor all of our local veterans,” said Pappalas’ nephew, Nick Strenk, 15, of Palos Hills.
At the event, veterans were welcomed into the school’s Performing Arts Center Lobby and were greeted with a welcome speech that was written and given by student council committee members.
The Bremen VFW Post 2791 presented the colors and folding of the flag, along with a student playing taps, a tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the U.S. Different student groups performed to honor veterans, including the Madrigal singers, led by Stagg's choral director Chris Betz. This year, Stagg's Key Club made favors for the veterans as a token of appreciation.
Stagg High School student Ella Giblin-Segal has been bringing her grandpa, Navy veteran from 1942-1946, Dan Giblin, and her uncle, Jim Colwell, an Air Force veteran from 1969-1976, to the luncheon every year since she has been a student at the school.
“ This has been a yearly tradition for us,” said Giblin-Segal, 16, of Palos Heights. “I like being able to have both my grandpa and my uncle here with me. It really means a lot to me.”
“ It’s nice that the school put on an event like this,” said Colwell, of Chicago. “It really brings people together.”
“ It’s nice to be recognized,” said Giblin, of Oak Lawn.
Many of the high school’s students and staff members also chose to volunteer to share their emotions and connections to the veterans in a tribute video that was played during the event.
“ The Veterans Luncheon is a great way for the student body of Stagg to reach out and give back to the community that shapes campus life,” said Karol Para, 16, of Worth.
For the past 16 years, the event has been organized by Stagg High School’s Student Council, along with student council sponsors and Stagg staff members Reneh Abudayyeh, Gina Marinello and Mary Reynolds.
“ In my opinion, the fact that this event is entirely student-run is what sets it apart from other Veterans Day events,” Abudayyeh said. “Our students plan and carry out the luncheon and everything they do focuses on showing appreciation and honoring veterans from surrounding communities. They get to meet real-life heroes.”
The veterans in attendance were invited in many ways, including some being a personal family member. Stagg Student Council members also created formal invitations that were mailed and emailed to local area VFW posts, libraries, independent living communities, rehab communities and long-term care facilities.
“ The background story of each and every veteran is different, and it’s a great experience and at the same time, a way to honor our veterans as they share their stories,” said Taranjit Braich, 17, of Palos Hills. “It’s amazing to learn about the amount of hard work and dedication they showed for our country.”