Social studies instructors Debbie Hagans of Western Plains High School in Ransom and Val Kepple of Ness City High School, along with retired social studies instructor and newly-published author Joanne Emerick of Hoxie, are the recipients of grants from the Life in a Jar Foundation sponsored by the Lowell Milken Center, Fort Scott.
The Lowell Milken Center, which opened in 2007, discovers, develops and communicates the stories of unsung heroes who have made a profound and positive difference on the course of history. All three teachers were chosen for the grants because of their ongoing work with WWII veterans, some of America’s most-valued “unsung heroes.”
Debbie Hagans and her students from Western Plains are involved in the Honor Flight. For the third year the students have raised $5,500 to sponsor World War II veterans for a trip to Washington, D.C. as part of the Southern Coffey County Honor Flight. Over the past three years, 13 students and 18 veterans were part of the two-day flight to Washington, D.C. to visit our Nation’s Capital and especially the World War II Memorial. The trip has included visits to Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and many other sites of beautiful Washington, D.C. The students have been involved in fundraisers including baking bierocks, holding soup suppers, and making 250 Sub sandwiches on Super Bowl Sunday! Special contributions were made by students who gave their wood-working projects as prizes in a special raffle to benefit the Honor Flight. The boys donated such wonderful items as dining room tables and a beautiful red oak coffee table.
“The Honor Flight has become well-known in our community and we have received wonderful support,” said Hagans. “Our entire trip is centered around the comfort of the veterans to ensure their safety and to provide an enjoyable trip. It is a proud moment for me as a teacher to see my students caring for these veterans with respect and admiration.” Each student serves as a guardian to one or two veterans, helping with wheelchairs, baggage and aiding them in and out of the coach bus. Not only is it an opportunity for the students to visit Washington, D.C., but to learn history from the men and women who served in various aspects of World War II. The trip is paid for entirely by the fundraising of the students as a small way to thank the veterans for their service to our country. The Western Plains High Flight will be departing on April 6th from Ransom and returning on April 9th. “We feel it is our honor to be a part of the Honor Flight!” stated Hagans.
The second recipient of the grant, Val Kepple of Ness City High School, was honored because of the efforts of her and her students to record, transcribe and archive interviews with Ness County World War II veterans. Kepple became interested in conducting the interviews after learning that the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka was launching a program to gather and archive interviews of World War II veterans across Kansas. The students then began working with the local American Legion to identify and find those individuals in Ness County willing to tell their story. “It’s been a real learning experience for me as well as my students,” commented Kepple. “Their stories are filled with information we can’t learn from textbooks.”
To date, 44 interviews have been conducted. Future plans include archiving copies of the interviews along with transcribed manuscripts with the Ness County Historical Society so that future generations can benefit from the stories of these unsung heroes.
Joanne Emerick, a Ness County native who retired in 2005 after teaching social studies in northwest Kansas schools for 31 years, was the third recipient of a Milken Foundation grant. She was honored because of her ongoing work with World War II veterans and to help promote her book Courage Before Every Danger, Honor Before All Men – the History of the 31st Bombardment Squadron (H) in World War II…in their own words. Emerick’s 421-page book follows the unsung heroes of the US Army Air Corps’ 31st Bombardment Squadron (H) as they fought the air war in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. Because the book is a first-hand account, the reader feels transported back in time, living day to day with the young men who flew America’s heavy bombers as they knocked out enemy shipping, airfields, supply depots and personnel areas on the islands of the Pacific. The book is an emotional work written in the veterans own words.
Emerick, whose late father, Wendell Pfannenstiel of Ness City, Kansas, was a medical corpsman with the 31st Squadron, wrote the book at the veterans’ request. The 31stsurvivors did not feel that the current generation of Americans understood nor appreciated the price that was paid for their freedom – a freedom 31st Squadron members fought and died for. COURAGE BEFORE EVERY DANGER celebrates the story of these unsung heroes and the freedom they fought for. More information on Emerick’s book can be found athttp://www.couragebeforeeverydanger.com
The grants to Hagans, Kepple, and Emerick were made possible by a generous donation to the Life in a Jar Foundation from Wal-Mart.