RACINE — Both Southern Elementary and Southern High School held Veteran’s Day assemblies in honor of the sacred day that honors members of our military — both past and present. As has been the tradition over the past seven years that Tony Deem, himself a veteran, has been superintendent, Southern Local has chosen a community veteran to honor for their efforts.
This year’s honoree was Sergeant Kenny Theiss, who served in World War II and Korea.
Theiss served as a Combat Engineer in Guadalcanal in 1943 and would be responsible for making passage for heavy mechanized artillery. In the spring of 1944, the Division was moved to New Britain. After training that fall, they set sail in December of 1944 from Borgen Bay for the first assault landing on the Philippine Island of Luzon. Heavy fighting took place at this site. The Division began moving toward Manila and was able to take back Panay Island by removing the Japanese resistance. The Divisions strategy continued to work as they were able to secure Pulupandan on the Island of Negros by April 2nd, 1945. The Division began training for an invasion of Japan but organized resistance stopped on May 31st. While the Division was training, the war ended. The occupation of Korea was the next stop for his unit. He returned home with the 115th Combat Engineers on April 7, 1946 to Camp Stoneman.
Theiss was a 1940 graduate of Racine High School. His four children — Kenny Theiss, Donna Theiss Sayre, Sharon Theiss Birch and David Theiss — also graduated from Racine.
After reading Theiss’s bio, Deem proclaimed, “It is with great pride and pleasure that I present this plaque to this year’s special honoree — Sergeant Kenny Theiss.
The first portion of the Southern program began outside at the flag pole.
Other guests in attendance were 15 members of the Racine American Legion post and other veterans and family members. Each honoree was presented the microphone by High School Principal Daniel Otto to give their name, rank, and branch of the military for which they served.
Southern graduates currently in the service we recognized. Those currently serving are Brett Beegle, Zane Beegle, Dax Holman, Dylan Roush, Joey Forester, Kreig Kleski, Kyle Goode, Marcus Hill, Steven Loane and Taylor Deem.
During the high school ceremony, which hosted grades 5-12, veterans from the Racine American Legion raised the flag as the award-winning Southern Marching Band under the direction of Chad Dodson played the National Anthem.
Kody Wolfe, president of the Student Council, led the students and guests in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Scott Wolfe, administrative assistant and Master of Ceremonies for the event, presented a speech entitled “Honoring Veterans”. Wolfe closed with a quote from President Ronald Reagan, then concluded with having the student body and community members give a big “Thank You” to the veteran’s in attendance.
“You fought for your country and for its safety and for the freedom of others with strength and courage. We love you for it. We honor you. And we have faith that, as He does all His sacred children, the Lord will bless you and keep you, the Lord will make His face to shine upon you and give you peace, now and forever more,” read Wolfe.
Wolfe said, “This part of the program is truly a celebration, and here we celebrate you and your dedication to serve and protect your country.”
Removing his fedora, Wolfe said, “For that I take my hat off to you, thank you for your service.”
Guest speaker for the event was American Legion member and Vietnam veteran Gary D. ‘Denny’ Evans, who noted that “many among us in our everyday lives may be veterans”.
Evans has served the Southern Local School District as a board member for nearly 25 years.
Evans added, “Today we honor veterans with a ‘thank you’, but veterans are worthy of a ‘thank you’ every single day. That simple ‘thank you’ means so much to a veteran.”
Evans continued by detailing the sacrifices that veterans have made “to secure the freedom of our country and keep Americans safe”, adding that service is an ‘earned respect’.
“We have over three million disabled American Veterans in our country. They have earned our respect. We need to help them every chance that we can.”
Evans also urged students to send care packages to those soldiers currently serving abroad, saying “I know how important that was for me, and how much it meant to get something from home. It means more than you can ever imagine.”
Next, the first graders from Southern Elementary performed “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless the USA”.
The ceremony then moved inside for a more solemn affair.
As the crowd made its way into Charles W. Hayman gymnasium, the Southern Band played patriotic music, including “Anchors Aweigh” and “The Caissons Go Rolling Along”.
Once inside the members of the Southern National Honor Society — Kody Wolfe, Jennifer McCoy, Kyrie Swann, Whitney Weddle, Jaclyn Mees, Paige Wehrung, Tare Eakins and Joe Smith — read Veteran’s Day quotes as the lights dimmed in the gymnasium to a somber backdrop for this sacred day.
Principal Daniel Otto presented a PowerPoint presentation to Jo Dee Messina’s “Heaven Was Needing A Hero”, and Deem then made the presentation to Theiss.
As is tradition, Deem and Computer Technician Ed Baker, a Marine veteran, presented the roll call honoring those from Meigs County that have died in World War I, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam War and the Iraqi Wars.
As the roll call was presented, a bell tolled and one of nearly 200 candles was snuffed out signifying the ultimate sacrifice of lives given for our freedom. Handling these duties were NHS members Courtney Thomas, Joe Smith and Jennifer McCoy.
This ceremony concluded with “Taps” being played by Jacob Hoback and A.J. Roush. Guests were dismissed to the school library for a reception to honor the veterans and their families.
Earlier in the day, a similar ceremony was held at Southern Elementary, where Principal Kent Wolfe served as the Master of Ceremonies for the K-4 grade assembly. The Southern band played patriotic music as students filed into the gymnasium, then the Racine American Legion posted the colors as veterans marched into the auditorium.
Poems were presented by Talon Drummer, Sara Schenkelberg, Marlee Maynard and Sierra Cleland.
Denny Evans presented the Veterans Day address.
A moment of silence was held in honor of ‘Fallen Soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice of life’. To conclude the ceremony, members of the Southern Band played Taps, and the American Legion retired the colors.