By Brandi Makuski
Five Portage Co. veterans will board the Never Forgotten Honor Flight this spring, thanks to a record donation made by junior high students.
The money was raised entirely by students at P.J. Jacobs Jr. High during the school’s annual “penny wars” during its week-long birthday celebration. As an incentive to raise the funds, teachers offered up their comfort — and hair — for sacrifice at an all-school assembly on March 17.
In light of how much was raised, one teacher had to dye her hair blue; another was shaved bald before the all-school assembly. Another still had to endure an ice bath for five minutes in baby pool situated inside the school’s gymnasium, and Principal Dan Dobratz had to allow a student to shave off his beloved mustache.
Science teach Kurt Freund, who helped organize the event with now-retired science teacher Dave Grabski, said the students came through in fine fashion.
“They raised $1100 in two days alone,” Freund said.
“This is all the kids; they did this all,” Grabski said. “Can you believe it?”
Three of the veterans attending the Honor Flight were present for the assembly. Michael Zynda, who attended P.J. Jacobs when it operated as a high school 58 years ago, served in the U.S. Army from 1967-1970. Zynda is currently a member of the Plover VFW.
Zynda’s son is a U.S. Marine who will accompany him on the flight, and said he expects the day will be “emotional”.
Navy veteran Conrad Suchon served 1969-1971.
“My brother is one of the guys who lost his life in Vietnam,” Suchon said. “So I’ll be able to go to the [Vietnam Veterans Memorial] wall to look for his name.
Roger Trzebiatowski, a former Stevens Point Councilman, served three years in the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1971. He said he was “honored and excited” to be able to make the flight.
The Honor Flight flies veterans free of charge on a one-day trip to visit military and war monuments in the nation’s capital. By the end of 2014, the organization had taken 1,660 veterans, along with almost 1,000 guardians- volunteers, or a friend or family member accompanying veterans for the day- on the trip Honor Flight President and co-founder Mike Thompson describes as a “once in a lifetime event”.
Thompson said thanks to donations like the one from P.J.’s students, the group has flown over 180 veterans from Portage Co. — more than 2,000 from across Central Wisconsin — to the nation’s capital. Almost 900 veterans are on the flight’s waiting list.
Donations to the Honor Flight began for the school in 2015. That year, students raises $1,000 through classroom penny wars, and duplicated that amount in 2016.
Honor Flight flies four “missions” the Washington, D.C. each year beginning in April. For more information, or to donate, go to www.neverforgottenhonorflight.org.