SUN PRAIRIE — Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School students are supplying one of the items veterans receive in their gift bags after returning from Badger Honor Flights.
Ninth-grade students in classes that explore technology, engineering and woodworking at the Sun Prairie school are making writing pens with shafts they craft out of redheart wood. Each one comes with a signed note thanking the veterans for their service and sacrifices.
“It just makes me realize how it’s going to affect their lives when we make (pens) — bringing joy to them,” said ninth-grader Tanner Scherer as he worked on his estimated 13th pen for the cause. “They’re really fun to make.”
In the fourth year of the project, the students are making enough pens to supply gift bags for at least two honor flights a year. The students’ teacher, Mike Roth, said he would like to get other schools on board so there would be enough for all of the Badger Honor Flights each year.
About 90 veterans go on each flight and there are four flights each year to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials erected in their honor. The students made 238 pens last school year.
Roth said he already has worked with a teacher in Prairie River Middle School in Merrill who is now running the project for Never Forgotten Honor Flight and other interested teachers can contact him.
Roth said he and former colleague Ken Bremer, who were co-teaching at the time, came up with the idea when they decided they wanted to have their students get involved in some community service. Roth said the project is particularly dear to him because his father, Richard Roth, enlisted at age 19 and flew 42 missions in the South Pacific during WWII as a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber.
After he started the project, Roth was encouraged to go to the Dane County Airport when the veterans got off their flight, and he said he was touched by the experience.
“They’re getting the heroes’ welcome they never got when they returned home,” Roth said.
The first year Roth and Bremer received a grant of about $400 from the Sun Prairie Education Foundation to fund the project. Now they get funding from the Badger Honor Flight, an affiliate of the national Honor Flight Network.
Bremer said most importantly the project is a chance for students to make something for someone unknown from another generation, rather than an item they can take home. Other incentives include the community service they earn toward what’s required for graduation. Each time they craft a pen for Badger Honor Flight, they also earn a pen kit so they can make another pen for themselves.
Students like Tanner, who has made about 25 pens total, said it was nice getting the pen kits.
“Part of it is so you can feel good. Part of it is you get another pen kit so you can make more,” said ninth grader Doug Vigil about making the Badger Honor Flight pens.
Roth said he steers the students toward making pens that have a traditional and eye-pleasing look.
“They’re really easy to make and they’re fun to make,” said ninth-grader Mitchell Ring. “It is such a lightweight wood that when you are sanding it and shaping it, it’s almost like butter.”
Roth has the students sign the notes, and about 20 to 25 percent of the time they get a thank-you note, sometimes with a photo enclosed. He is impressed by the gesture of the veterans to send a note for something in a gift bag, especially given the age of some of the veterans.
“It’s just satisfying knowing where they are going and that you spent time on them,” ninth-grader Max Saron said about the pens.