Thursday, November 12, 2009

Honor for woman who honors vets

Riverside Elementary School students in Brainerd honored war veterans Wednesday during the school's annual Veterans Day ceremony. In a surprise move, Riverside Principal Cathy Engler took a moment during the ceremony to recognize one of the school's special volunteers who works hard each year to teach students the importance of remembering the veterans within their families.
Rose Robison, or Grandma Rose as students call her, has spent the past 27 years working at Riverside, the first 13 years in the food services department and the last 14 years as a foster grandparent. She volunteers five days a week for most of each school day, spending much of her time helping students learn to read.
Robison has been helping Engler organize the Veterans Day program for the past 17 years, said Engler. And for the past 15 years Robison has spearheaded the Riverside Veterans Wall project. The wall is actually two walls near the Riverside gym filled with paper "bricks" written with the names of students' family members who are veterans. Some feature photographs and news stories about their veterans. Students bring the bricks home and their parents help fill them out.Engler said for two years before the wall was created the school had a tree that featured the names of students' family members who are veterans for Veterans Day, but it became so popular it was difficult to find room for all the names on the tree.
Robison said many of the third- and fourth-graders help her put the bricks on the walls and each brick has a VFW poppy on it. The veterans wall continues to grow each year. Last year there were 554 bricks; this year there are 560 bricks.
"It's my favorite," Robison said of the wall. "The kids are so involved in it. This has always been a project I have always loved to do."Robison has been an active member of the VFW Auxiliary since she was 16. She's also a member of the Brainerd American Legion Auxiliary and her late husband, Robbie, was a World War II veteran. She said the students and staff at Riverside, who say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, have a genuine patriotism that is evident at the school. Both of Engler's parents are veterans so the annual Veterans Day ceremony means a great deal at the school. It means a lot to Robison, too. She participates each year, as does her brother, Matt Gilgenbach, who is a member of the VFW and American Legion Color Guards.
Robison said when community members stopped in to Riverside to vote last week many were amazed by the wall, stopping to read many of the names after they cast their ballots in the school board election in the gym.
"A lot of people don't know about it," said Robison. "It's a school I couldn't be more proud of."A few years ago when gas prices were at an all-time high, Robison decided she could no longer afford to drive five days a week to the school and was going to cut back on her days volunteering at the school. Students and staff took up a collection and bought Robison a gas card to encourage her to stay. Talking about it still brings tears to her eyes.Robison said after her husband died in 1991, she adopted the students and staff at Riverside as her family."I've made this a family for me and they've accepted me," Robison said with a smile. "I say, 'Look at all my kids.'"The Veterans Day presentation included musical performances by students as well as veteran Jim Kounkel, poetry and an informational presentation by Steve Rosenow, former county veterans service officer.


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