Attendees at Saturday's Veterans Appreciation Dinner rise, salute and hold hands over their hearts as the Almont High School band plays the Star Spangled Banner to begin the program. photo by Tom Wearing.
November 08, 2017ALMONT — A cool, steady rain fell outside on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 4, but inside Almont High School an estimated 350 veterans and their guests were treated to a hot and hardy meal and the warm heartfelt acknowledgement of a grateful community.
The gathering marked the 2nd Annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner coordinated by members of Lapeer County's Veterans Esteem Team (VET).
Last year, the group hosted a similar dinner and tribute for veterans at Dryden High School, which attracted about 300 people.
In addition to eight color guards and representatives from several Lapeer County veterans organizations, dignitaries in attendance included 82nd District Rep. Gary Howell, Lapeer County Commission Chairman Gary Roy, and Congressman Paul Mitchell.
The afternoon's program began with the Pledge of Allegiance led by Esteem Team member Val Trombley, followed by the Star Spangled Banner performed by the Almont High School Band conducted by John Reinhard. Senior band member Gerard Knittel, would later play a stirring rendition of Taps.
Following an introduction by Dryden and North Branch Esteem Team members Robb Heugh and Abigail Koning, a benediction was presented by Phillip Hunkele and John Mulder of VFW Post 2492 of Imlay City.
At the beginning of the prayer, Mulder thanked Esteem Team members for their individual and shared efforts to honor those who serve and have served in the nation's armed forces.
"We thank you for these students who have a desire to honor our veterans," said Mulder. "It makes us feel very thankful for the care and concern they have for us.
"These students show great leadership, and that gives us a great feeling as they will be the future leaders of our communities."
Veteran David Hoffman followed with a moving presentation honoring America's POWs and MIAs.
During the full-course buffet dinner, attendees were treated to a musical program by The Hackwells, whose repertoire featured American classics ranging from John Denver's Country Roads to a medley consisting of the military theme songs of U.S. Army, Marine Corps., Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Adding a light touch to the event was Canadian comedian Timothy Boyle, who admitted to being less emotional about politics than most Americans.
Others stepping up to the podium were: Almont Schools Supt. Dr. William Kalmar, Almont Esteem Team Sponsor John Reinhard and North Branch Esteem Team Sponsor Robb Heugh.
The event concluded with the Almont High School Band playing "God Bless the USA," after which Veterans Esteem Team members and students went around the room shaking the hands of the veterans.
Esteem Team roster
Current members of the Lapeer County Veterans Esteem Team include: Founder/President Benjamin Koning, co-founder Abigail Koning, Josh Boyd, Seth McCarty, Emily Kruk, Liberty Cooper, Jack Enen, Olivia Heugh, Ayden Marshall, Elizabeth Oland, Logan Sawson, Karter Shingledecker, Spencer Wesch, Darius Boulton, Josh Helm, Gabe Hutchins, Miyah Matice, Ryan Rogers, Peyton Shepherd, Val Trombley, Ms. Dusty and Almont High School Esteem Team member Hannah Cheney who announced she will be joining the National Guard after graduation.
In the aftermath of another successful Appreciation Dinner, Benjamin Koning, Esteem Team Founder/Dryden High School graduate, heaped praise on all those who assisted, volunteered or financially supported the event.
"The response from everyone was overwhelming," said Benjamin. "Despite the rain, we had a great turnout and everything went well."
Benjamin said he and his family members were inspired to help veterans following a visit to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.
"We felt they weren't being treated as well as
they deserved and we
wanted to do something," Benjamin said. "We decided to start something to help local veterans, in hopes the idea would spread to others."
If Saturday's large turnout and abundant camaraderie were any indication, Benjamin and his fellow Lapeer County Veterans Esteem Team members are on the right track.
To join up or donate
For more information about the Lapeer County Veterans Esteem Team, or to make a donation, call 810-346-3560, email to: our.VET.firstname.lastname@example.org mail checks to: Veterans Esteem Team, 4940 Van Dyke, Brown City, MI 48416.
Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.