CLARKS MILLS — If any year could use an uplifting story, it’s 2020.
This story got its start a few weeks before Veterans Day, when students at St. Mary/St. Michael School in Clarks Mills began creating cards for area veterans to thank them for their service.
The students take part in service projects each month, said Jeanne Duenkel, who teaches third and fourth grades, and the Veterans Day project is an annual one.
Students and veterans were paired at random. The school mailed about 220 cards and timed them so that recipients would have them by Veterans Day, she said. The school received more responses than usual to their cards this year, likely due to the pandemic, Duenkel said.
One response stood out among the rest.
Third grader Sam Staudinger, 8, wrote his card to Charles Spiering, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc and Vietnam veteran, who served in the U.S. Army and the Army Reserve.
Spiering received Sam’s card the day before he was scheduled for routine surgery. He told Carol, his wife of 54 years, that she should make sure that Sam received a thank you card and one of his service medals in the event that something would happen to him.
Spiering, 79, died at the hospital on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“(Carol Spiering) took it upon herself to follow through,” said Duenkel. “She called here and talked to our school secretary. The school secretary was in tears. We were both in tears. It was so very touching. We said a prayer for Mr. Spiering and Mrs. Spiering.”
On Dec. 4, Carol Spiering came to the school in person to present Sam with the card and a National Defense Service Medal on her late husband’s behalf.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was something (Charles) specifically asked me to do,” she said of her visit to St. Mary/St. Michael School, adding that her protective mask helped keep her emotions in check.
She also dropped off a card and medal for a Roncalli Elementary School fourth grader who sent a letter; that school had visitor restrictions due to COVID-19.
Her husband was “very surprised and very happy and very grateful” to receive notes from the young students, Spiering said.
The front of Sam’s handmade card was embellished with a red and blue crayon-colored star and the words, “I thank my lucky stars for you.”
Inside was a big red heart with the words: “Have a happy day. Thank you for everything.”
When Spiering made her visit to Sam’s classroom, students in other rooms were invited in to see what she had brought.
“It was really a teachable moment,” Duenkel said. “It was a small moment, but it was a powerful moment. It’s been heartwarming.”
Sam, the son of Jen and Chad Staudinger of Reedsville, was happy to receive the medal, yet sad that Charles Spiering had passed away, said his mother.
Her son discovered “how a small gesture can have such a big impact,” Jen Staudinger said. “It was impossible not to tear up. What an experience for a kid that age to learn that something so simple as making a card and mailing it out made that man’s day and how much it means to (veterans) to be recognized on Veterans Day.”
The thank you card written by Charles Spiering reads: “Dear Sam: Thank you for your letter. It meant very much to me. I’d like you to have this medal to remember all who have served our country and as a reminder to do good things in life. Yours truly, Charles E. Spiering.”
Students at St. Mary/St. Michael School are “very lucky to have the experiences they do,” Sam’s mother added. “The lessons they learn in a Catholic school — there’s so much more to it than academics.”