EFFINGHAM — Dozens of kindergarten students at the Early Learning Center sat in awe in front of five veterans Thursday as the youngsters listened to the stories of those who served.

The kindergartners honored Army veteran Bob Reisner and Navy Veterans Tony Koester, Bob Ferguson, Gary West and Missy Koester with a song, Pledge of Allegience facts and a question-and-answer segment. Also present in the audience were several veterans and family members of the kindergarten students.

ELC music teacher Linda Richards asked the students several questions about the pledge they had just recited. Among the questions Richards asked the students was a question posed about the United States flag.

“The flag is our country’s symbol of freedom,” the students said in unison.

The students had also prepared a list of questions for the five veterans honored at the assembly. The youngsters asked everything from where did the veterans eat and sleep when they served to why they served.

Navy veteran Missy Koester told the room full of students, teachers, relatives and veterans that joining the military was always in her plans.

“It was something I always wanted to do. I wanted to serve my country,” Missy Koester said.

Missy Koester may have also been inspired by her father’s own service to the country. She sat alongside her father, Navy veteran Tony Koester at the assembly while Missy Koester’s daughter and Tony Koester’s granddaughter, Jane Koester, observed from the audience with her kindergarten classmates.

Like Missy Koester, Ferguson told the students he worked as a medic with the Navy and at times also helped wounded Marines. When asked what boot camp was like, Ferguson took the opportunity to encourage the children to join the military in the future.

“If I can do it, all of you guys can do it, too,” Ferguson said.

Tony Koester, Ferguson, Reisner and West recalled sending and receiving letters from loved ones during their combined over 15 years of military service. As a younger veteran, Missy Koester recalled speaking with loved ones face-to-face on a screen through Skype in the early 2000s.

The students, veterans and guests were also treated to a portion of the many military memorabilia on display at the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum. ECCCM Vice President Jane Ries told the packed cafeteria about the history of the uniforms, which belonged to three local servicemen.

One uniform Ries brought for display was that of Richards’ father. The green jacket and pant uniform as well as several medals attested to Richards’ fathers service as an Army Air Corp member.

The five veteran guests brought gifts of American flags and pencils for each of the students, saying each kindergartner now has their own flag to proudly display.

The students concluded the assembly with a song expressing their gratitude to the veterans and their service to the country.

“We are very thankful for everything you do,” the students sang.

Kaitlin Cordes can be

reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.


Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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