by Melanie Jongsma
Breakfast at Illiana
LANSING, Ill. (November 10, 2017) – In spite of the below-freezing temperatures and a few swirling snowflakes, about 40 veterans began gathering at the flagpole in front of Illiana Christian High School around 7:30 this morning. They stood, surrounded by hundreds of Illiana students, staff, and teachers, to watch Police Cadets Nate DeVries and Nick Deja raise the American flag while the national anthem was played.
This was the beginning of a morning that next included a hot breakfast served by members of Illiana’s Student Council and the GO Club. At tables with family and friends, the veterans socialized and reconnected. Various students circulated and made conversation, cleared dishes, and expressed thanks.
In the gym next to the breakfast, students began filing in and filling up the bleachers and folding chairs, leaving the first three rows empty. The room was full by the time the veterans entered, and they were welcomed with applause and cheers. Following a welcome by students Cambrie VanRoekel and Payton Smit, the Illiana A Capella Choir sang a medley of the theme songs from the armed service branches. Veterans from each branch were asked to stand while their song was being sung.
“Unity and Sacrifice” was the theme of the speech given by William L. Venhuizen, MSgt (ret.) USAF. Venhuizen is a Lansing native who currently teaches history classes at Illiana.
This is the fifth year that Illiana has offered a Veterans Prayer Breakfast as a way of expressing gratitude to area veterans.
Lunch at Thornton Township
“We will never ever forget you,” promised Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli to the veterans seated with family and friends in the lower level of the Thornton Township Hall. Zuccarelli’s speech followed the posting of colors by D205, Civil Air Patrol of Thornwood High School; Taps, played by Ross D. Lathrop; the Pledge of Allegiance; an invocation; and a wreath ceremony outside the building.
It is a tradition at the Thornton Township program to present each veteran with a thank-you pin. The design of the pin is different each year, but the intention is always the same: to offer a tangible expression of gratitude to all veterans who attend the service.
Lansing Mayor Patty Eidam, Village Clerk Vivian Payne, and Village Trustee Maureen Grady-Perovich attended the program, and since Mayor Eidam is an Army veteran, she too got in line to receive a pin from Supervisor Zuccarelli.
Following the presentation of pins, Marvin Gardner, Vice Commander of the Veterans Strike Force program, spoke to the crowd about the services his program offers. “Veterans helping veterans” is their motto, and Gardner was able to speak from personal experience about some of the struggles veterans face.
A lunch of sandwiches and sides was provided by Jimbooo’s and Walt’s, and guests stayed for up to an hour enjoying the food and fellowship.
Dinner at JJ Kelley’s
It’s a tradition that started 10 years ago and has taken on additional meaning with each passing year. JoEllyn Favia, owner of JJ Kelley’s, opens up her Marine Corps Birthday Party to all veterans now, serving a free fried chicken dinner to veterans on November 10 each year. Dinner is from 4:00–6:00pm, followed by a patriotic program that includes the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, and recognition of veterans from all the branches of service.
The Marines are special though, because Lance Cpl. Philip J. Martini was a Marine. The TF South graduate was killed in action in Iraq in 2006, and his picture hangs on the wall of JJ Kelley’s. Favia started the Marine Corps Birthday Party as a way to honor Philip and bring healing to his mom, Laura, Favia’s long-time friend.
So the Marines get an extended segment of the annual program in honor of the Marine Corps Birthday. All the Marines present were invited onstage and given the opportunity to state their name and rank. A videoed birthday message from Commandant General Neller was played, and then the cake-cutting ceremony began.
“The birthday cake is traditionally cut with the Mameluke sword,” read Marine Corporal Ryan Hensley from the traditional script, “as a reminder that we are a band of warriors, committed to carrying the sword, so that our nation may live in peace.” Hensley used the sword to cut the first piece of cake, and then pronounced, “As is our custom, the first piece of cake will be presented to our guest of honor, Mrs. Laura Martini.”
As part of the tradition, a second piece of cake is presented to the oldest Marine present, who this year was Richard Elson. It is custom then for the oldest Marine to present a piece of cake to the youngest Marine present, who this year was Erin Martinez. The act symbolizes that “for 242 years our experienced Marines have nurtured and led young Marines that will fill our ranks and renew our Corps.”
The ceremony ends with the Marine Corps song, “From the Halls of Montezuma,” and the evening dissolves into good-natured socializing over drinks and birthday cake.
JJ Kelley’s is located at 2455 Bernice Road in Lansing.