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Posted: 12/05/12

This year's VFW award winners are, from left,
Thomas Anderson, Bridget Kowalke, Brad Menz, Karen Rasey, VFW Women's Auxiliary, Leonard Monfils, VFW Post Commander, Jessie Okoniewski, Brent Cole, VFW vice-presidnet Men's Auxiliary, Cymoril Binder, and Sierra Okoniewski.

(Observer photo by Lori Phillips)

VFW awards top teachers
and top students for essays

Observer Special Writer
      What do great teachers and democratic ideals have in common? Many people don't stop to think about them nearly often enough.
       The Romeo VFW Post 2052, however, has been thinking about both quite a bit lately.
       On Friday evening, they hosted a brief ceremony to recognize the recipients for Teacher of the Year and winners of two essay contests.
       The Patriot Pen contest is open to students in grades sixth through eighth, while the Voice of Democracy competition is open to students in grades ninth through 12th. In both cases, students in public, private, parochial or homeschool may apply.
       Cymoril Binder (Romeo High School sophomore), Thomas Anderson (Romeo High junior) and Sierra Okoniewski (a homeschooled junior) were given awards for their Voice of Democracy essays. Each student shared their perspective about the modern-day relevancy of the Constitution, in a written essay and a 3- to 5-minute taped presentation of that essay.
       In a separate contest, middle school students were invited to write about what they would tell our country's forefathers. Jessie Okoniewski, homeschooled eighth-grader and sister to Sierra, won the Patriot Pen award for her entry.
       Top essays go on to be judged at the district level. Those first place entries will then have the opportunity to advance to the state finals and then compete nationally in Washington D.C. The student named to have the first-place essay in the country will receive a $30,000 educational scholarship. Other national awards range from $1,000-$3,000. About 10 different awards are given nationally.
       After being nominated by former students, Brad Menz and Bridget Kowalke won prizes for middle school and high school Teacher of the Year, respectively.
       Brad Menz teaches the sixth grade. He has dedicated 15 years to guiding Romeo students in their studies and in becoming good citizens in the community.
       "Some people have a passion for working with special education students, some with high school or younger kids . . . I can't imagine enjoying anything more than teaching middle school students," he said.
       The other recipient, Kowalke, has been an educator for 18 years. This year, she teaches juniors and seniors. Kowalke joked that she was excited not only by the honor of the award, but also that a student took the initiative to write an essay she didn't assign.
       The awards were presented by Post Commander Leonard Monfils, Karen Rasey (the scholarship chairperson for the women's auxiliary), and Brent Cole (the senior vice-president for the men's auxiliary).
       In addition to promoting thoughtful reflection of our democracy and rewarding the exemplary service of our teachers, the Romeo VFW also supports a variety of charitable efforts including health and welfare programs, working with veteran's hospitals, and National Home< which offers a temporary place to live for struggling families of veterans. The VFW also helps send children to Camp Trotter, which is a fun, week-long camp experience (no veteran affiliation required).
       Jean Dahn, a member of the Women's Auxiliary since 1954, has been coming to the VFW hall, which was founded in 1931 by Herman Striber and Jim McVicar, most of her life.
       "My parents (Frank and Maple Siglow) were charter members. When they were younger and active in the auxiliary, they would bring me along," said Dahn.
       Dahn helped explain that mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters and wives of veterans are all welcome to become part of the auxiliary.
       VFW Post 2052 meets at 70455 McVicar Street on the third Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m.

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