Sen. Judy Schwank presented the 2018 Patriot Award to Kutztown Army veteran SPC. 5 Dave Merkel during the Brandywine Heights Area School District’s 19th annual Veteran’s Day Assembly at the middle school on Nov. 9.

“So happy. Never expected anything like this, not in my wildest dreams,” said Merkel. “Something you never expect. I guess it’s one of those priceless moments… Everything in your life comes to a highlight and I guess this is it. It’s great.”

Every year, Brandywine Heights recognizes a local veteran for their service to the community. Merkel was born and raised in Kutztown, graduated from Kutztown High School in 1965 and served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969. He coached boys baseball and girls softball for a total of 38 years. Since 2010, he has been collecting all kinds of scrap metal and cans for his fundraising program Cans for Kids which supports scholarships, families in need, youth organizations and programs. In total, Cans for Kids has contributed an estimated $40,000 to help local youth.

“You win something like this because you give. This is all because of giving, not for what you get except for the love of the people that say thanks. That’s my reward for all these years,” said Merkel, thanking everyone for the award. “The rewards from working with children are unbelievable. The memories you get are unbelievable.”

Schwank also presented a citation to Merkel on behalf of the Senate “in admiration and great thankfulness for your service to our country.”

The Veteran’s Day Assembly features student performances to honor local veterans in attendance and concludes with a lunch for veterans.

“Today is an occasion to thank all veterans for your service but also an opportunity to help our students gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a veteran,” said Brandywine Superintendent Andrew Potteiger. “It is commitment, dedication, physical fitness, mental toughness, enduring tough living conditions, comradery, service to country that embody what it means to be a veteran.”

Part of the day’s events included veterans visiting classrooms, talking about their military experiences.

“Through the stories and conversations occurring throughout the day, you as veterans were able to pass on these ideals to our students and future leaders of our nation and future soldiers,” said Potteiger. “Your stories are not in textbooks and are not captured on television programs or videos; they are the connections for students to understand the personal sacrifice, the separation from loved ones and family, the devastation of loss and the reminder that freedom has a cost and is not free. These important life lessons you share with our students, your willingness to be part of this special day is what makes this event so special.”

Potteiger hopes that events like this resonate with students and that “they pick up the torch of honor to serve and someday are also recognized and appreciated for their service in our military.”

The assembly included performances by the High School Fife & Drum Corp., 7 and 8th grade Band, BHMS Select Chorus, 6 to 8th grade Chorus, and choral director Nancy Chmielewski.

In addition to music, students paid tribute to veterans through the recitation of poems, a media presentation, and posters and essays that highlight the issue of homelessness among veterans.

“Home is an important place. It’s a place of safety and security, a place of friendship and peace,” said Brandywine Heights Middle and Intermediate School Principal Robert Farina, talking about letters written during his grandfather’s WWII service in the Army.

“In those letters, there is always mention of home. Our veterans have fought and sacrificed to protect our home and it is our duty to always honor their sacrifices and live out the values that they protect, such as liberty and freedom,” he said.

One small way to repay this debt is this ceremony, he said. For the past 19 years, Brandywine opens its doors to community veterans and welcomes them home into the school, into classrooms and to tour the decorated hallways to make the school a home for veterans.

“This school will always be a home for our veterans,” said Farina.

Winners of the Poster and Essay Contests were also recognized during the assembly. The theme this year is “How can we address and prevent veterans’ homelessness in our communities?” Each 1st place winner read their essay. Winning posters were shown on a large screen.

4th Grade essay contest:

3rd Place – Emily Koop

2nd Place – Chloe Parish

1st Place – Jenna Maioriello

5th Grade essay contest:

3rd Place – Peyton Hillegass

2nd Place – Ellis Kline

1st Place – Ella Potteiger

4th Grade Poster contest:

3rd Place - Ian Radcliffe

2nd Place - Acadia Hermany

1st Place – Zoey Demerjian

5th Grade Poster contest:

3rd Place - Madison Haring

2nd Place - Madeline Roibu

1st Place - Ellis Kline

6th Grade essay contest:

3rd Place - Annaliese Horvath

2nd Place - Olivia Alderfer

1st Place - Arielle Berete

7th Grade essay contest:

3rd Place - Ashley Nace

2nd Place - Dana Wartzenluft

1st Place - Meghan Miller

8th Grade essay contest:

3rd Place - Kyra Yergey

2nd Place - Kaylyn Frankenfield

1st Place - Hannah Ray

6th Grade Poster contest:

3rd Place - Hayley Reeser and Clareese Clyde

2nd Place - Lucia DiDomenico

1st Place - Greta Kline

7th Grade Poster contest:

3rd Place - Taylin Rodriguez

2nd Place - Angelina Dechristopher

1st Place - Meghan Miller

8th Grade Poster contest:

3rd Place - Dante Blankenbiller and Caileigh Master

2nd Place - Teagan Roth, Megan Hersh and Natalie Nissley

1st Place - Hannah Swoyer

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Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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