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Willmar elementary schools continue their tradition of lunch with a veteran

Caden Spencer, 8, sits at lunch Wednesday with his great-grandfather, Arend Jagt, at Roosevelt Elementary School. More than 80 military veterans were on hand for a lunch of hamburgers, home fries and coleslaw to commemorate Veterans Day. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Across the cafeteria full of third-graders, veterans of all ages answered questions and chatted with kids as they ate.

More than 80 military veterans on Wednesday enjoyed a lunch of hamburgers, home fries and coleslaw with the students of Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar.

A similar observance of Veterans Day will be held during the lunch periods today at Kennedy Elementary.

The lunch to honor veterans started several years ago at Kennedy and has become a tradition at both schools.

At one table on Wednesday, Arend Jagt, who served with the U.S. Army in Korea in the early 1950s, ate lunch with his great-grandson Caden Spencer, 8.

Across the table was Jim Tait, who served in the Army Signal Corps in the late 1950s. His great-grandson Tanner Mord, 8, sat close beside him.

Tanner said he hadn't known his great-grandfather was a veteran before his mom told him about it. During lunch, Tait gave him a copy of his service photo.

Asked if his great-grandpa looks different now, Tanner grinned and nodded vigorously.

Jagt had brought his Army hat along and put it on for some photos. He still has his entire uniform, he said, "but it shrank." The children who ate with him were curious about the hat, he said.

Jim Radermacher of Willmar, who served in the Marine Corps from 1990 to 1994, sat with his 9-year-old daughter Madison and her classmates. The girls at his table had questions about why he joined the military and if it was fun.

Radermacher said he joined because his dad and brothers had been in the military, and he followed their example. He did enjoy being in the Marines, he said, especially when he worked at the Pentagon for two years.

One of the chattier tables was the one where retired Brig. Gen. Dean Johnson ate with his friend Charlie Farhat, 8.

Johnson, a Lutheran pastor and former state senator from Willmar, had worn his uniform.

The table full of third-grade boys was full of questions about the uniform and its decorations. Johnson explained that he had received the ribbons on his uniform to recognize accomplishments. "Kinda like the Boy Scouts," one boy said, and Johnson agreed that it was, indeed, a little like that.

Johnson also explained what the star on each of his shoulders signified and pointed out the cross on his lapel.

Charlie, a parishioner of Johnson's, received a commemorative general's coin from Johnson as they finished their lunch.

"This is a nice event, community recognition," Johnson said before he left. It's good for the students to spend time with veterans, he added.

"There are some kids who didn't know what a veteran is," said Dean of Students Nathan Cox, so many teachers at Roosevelt began the day talking about veterans.

"We don't want the kids to lose perspective about the sacrifice so many have made," he said.

Roosevelt child guide Heidi Burton said the lunch "puts a face and a name to the whole idea" of Veterans Day.

The local American Legion and the Military Kids Fund paid for lunch for the veterans. School social worker Cheryl Bosch enlisted the help of several classrooms of students in the school to help decorate. Students made red, white and blue paper chains to put on the cafeteria tables. They also decorated name tags for the veterans, and they wrote thank-you letters to their guests.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340