2015-11-13 / Front Page

Students’ peace art aids war vets

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


World War II veteran George Morrill examines a bat made in his honor and presented by his grandson Anson Cox, standing, during an assembly at Kennebunk Elementary School Nov. 6, as other honorees, John Woodbury, left, and Richard Contant, center, watch on. (Duke Harrington photo) World War II veteran George Morrill examines a bat made in his honor and presented by his grandson Anson Cox, standing, during an assembly at Kennebunk Elementary School Nov. 6, as other honorees, John Woodbury, left, and Richard Contant, center, watch on. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — A trio of men honored for decades as part of America’s greatest generation received what they say may be their greatest honor yet this past Friday, when they were singled out for special recognition at the annual Veterans Day celebration staged by Kennebunk Elementary School.

More than 50 military veterans, representing every conflict from World War II to the ongoing war on terror, were celebrated in song and speech at the event, but the three – along with one Korean War vet and a fourth World War II combatant, unable to attend – were the VIPs in the eyes of the assembled students.


Second-grade teacher Sara Dugas, far left, leads the Kennebunk Elementary School Kids Chorus in song during a school assembly Friday, Nov. 6, held to honor nearly 50 local military veterans, including five sent to Washington, D. C. courtesy of fundraising efforts by the students. (Duke Harrington photo) Second-grade teacher Sara Dugas, far left, leads the Kennebunk Elementary School Kids Chorus in song during a school assembly Friday, Nov. 6, held to honor nearly 50 local military veterans, including five sent to Washington, D. C. courtesy of fundraising efforts by the students. (Duke Harrington photo) That’s because all five were recently able to travel to Washington D. C., to view the memorials erected to their service, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the kids at KES.

Last year, the students sold original artwork they created trough the Square 1 Art Program. Using the art pieces, created on paper provided by Georgia-based Square 1, the works were reproduced on items ranging from coffee mugs and water bottles, to plates, mouse pads and smartphone cases, then sold via catalogue. The project raised more than $5,000 – enough to send the five vets to D. C. aboard planes chartered by Honor Flight Maine, a nonprofit dedicated to transporting veterans from across Maine to the nation’s capitol, to tour, experience, and reflect on the memorials erected to their deeds, and those of their peers who never made it home.


Ray Velez, left, and Andrew “Buzz” Reid, of Georgia-based Square 1 Art, stand with examples of the artwork created on their paper by students at Kennebunk Elementary School, which their company printed on various products. The sale of those items last year, raising more than $5,000 to send five local veterans of World War II and the Korean War to see the monuments erected in their honor in Washington, D. C. (Duke Harrington photo) Ray Velez, left, and Andrew “Buzz” Reid, of Georgia-based Square 1 Art, stand with examples of the artwork created on their paper by students at Kennebunk Elementary School, which their company printed on various products. The sale of those items last year, raising more than $5,000 to send five local veterans of World War II and the Korean War to see the monuments erected in their honor in Washington, D. C. (Duke Harrington photo) The fact that schoolchildren would remember their service at all, now more than 70 years distant, let alone work so hard on their behalf, was beyond humbling, the vets said.

“These kids are just beautiful. They are. I can’t believe they could do such a thing,” said John “Benny” Woodbury, 91, who served in the U.S. Navy as a machinist mate first class.


Examples of artwork created by students at Kennebunk Elementary School and sold printed on various products last spring, raising more than $5,000 to send five local veterans of World War II and the Korean War to see the monuments erected in their honor in Washington, D. C. (Duke Harrington photo) Examples of artwork created by students at Kennebunk Elementary School and sold printed on various products last spring, raising more than $5,000 to send five local veterans of World War II and the Korean War to see the monuments erected in their honor in Washington, D. C. (Duke Harrington photo) “I don’t know what words I could give them, other than thank you,” he said.

Woodbury added that without the aid of the students, it’s doubtful he ever would have been able to see the World War II Memorial.

“It was overwhelming,” he said of the experience. “I was totally impressed. It’s too bad everybody in American couldn’t go there to see that.”

To give an idea of just how much time has passed since Woodbury’s service, fueling his awe that the kids would even care, consider that one first-grader at KES is his greatgreat great niece.


World War II veterans, from left, Richard Contant and John “Benny” Woodbury, and Korean War vet Dick Clark, join the crowd of students, staffers and parents, along with other vets, at the annual Veterans Day assembly at Kennebunk Elementary School, held Friday, Nov. 6. (Duke Harrington photo) World War II veterans, from left, Richard Contant and John “Benny” Woodbury, and Korean War vet Dick Clark, join the crowd of students, staffers and parents, along with other vets, at the annual Veterans Day assembly at Kennebunk Elementary School, held Friday, Nov. 6. (Duke Harrington photo) Another of the honorees with a special connection to KES was George Morrill, 92, who has a grandson in the fourth grade at the school.

Morrill, of Livermore Falls, served as a flight engineer. While the other four honorees got their Honor Flight trips last May, Morrill returned from his excursion just last week.

“It was really a prize. It didn’t cost me a cent,” he said. “This school, I don’t know how they did it. Personally, I don’t think I deserve it, but it shows they are mindful of what we did, all of us, from that time.”

Although Woodbury and Morrill have connections to KES, that was not a requirement. According to Principal Ryan Quinn, the goal instead was to send veterans willing and able to go, despite their age, who had not previously made the pilgrimage. That, he says, proved to be something of a challenge.

“It was hard to find people that age who were well enough to go, who had not already been,” said Quinn. “We reached out to every American Legion hall and every VFW hall, got some leads and followed up on them. But I began to get discouraged, because I looked for months.”

In the end, Quinn also turned up Richard Conant, Loring “Bob” Newcomb and Dick Clark, the latter a Korean War vet.

“This was very, very moving. I’m just amazed at what these kids have done,” said Clark, of Saco, who served as a sergeant in the first cavalry division.

“But I’m a sentimentalist, you can see that,” he said, as he choked up with emotion, immediately after the ceremony.

Meanwhile, Contant, 88, was located right in Kennebunk. As a seaman first class, he served as a gunner aboard the liberty ships that sailed out of South Portland. After the war, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became a draftsman and worked on the guidance systems that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Even so, he seemed more impressed with the KES students, than with anything he himself had ever done.

“This was fantastic,” he said. “The whole ceremony today was beautiful. It just means an awful lot. And, I think it helps them with their patriotism, also.”

That, says Quinn, was part of the plan, using what RSU 21 refers to as “service learning.”

“More and more research shows that in raising resilient children, one of the best things you can do is to teach them to give back, to do things for others,” Quinn said. “It’s about giving kids that exposure to the idea that they can have a role and do something important, and make something important happen.”

Every year, KES does a community fundraiser and last year that coincided with the annual Square1 project led by art teacher Tina DeFilipp. While funds from Square 1 sales are traditionally pumped back into art programs nationwide – arts classes generally falling last in line at budget time – DeFilipp saw another opportunity.

“While I do need a new kiln, and could easily have earmarked the money for that, it’s just more important to me as a teaching tool,” she said. “I just always liked the idea of kids giving back, that it’s better to give than to receive, and paying it forward.”

For the past three years, DeFilipp has dedicated Square 1 proceeds to community projects.

“It empowers the kids, I think, to understand that their artwork can make a difference in a way beyond just being displayed on a wall, whether it makes a profit that can then be used to help others, or just through its theme, which can be uplifting and motivating to others, as well,” she explained.

Last year, DiFilipp’s Square 1 project became the school’s annual service learning fundraiser. The art reflected themes of peace, love, and giving, she said, crediting Quinn with the idea of tying the fundraiser into the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly.

As Conant noted, patriotism is important, Quinn said.

“It’s about how you teach kids, how you expose them to patriotism, and bravery, and sacrifice, and respect,” he said. “They certainly don’t fully understand all of what goes along with veterans, but they understand a lot more at this school because we do these assemblies.

“We talk to kids a lot about bravery and respect, and these veterans are a living example of that,” Quinn said.

According to Quinn, DeFilipp was the first art teacher in the nation to dedicate Square 1 funds to service learning projects. At Friday’s assembly, two representatives from the company flew in to see what can happen when an entire school gets behind that idea. They were, to say the least, impressed.

“It gives us a great feeling of satisfaction to see communities use our products to recognize the service of these people, because people today forget about it,” said company founder, Andrew “Buzz” Reid.

“ I mean, you would never see something like this in Atlanta,” he said, “You’d just never find it, and that’s a crying shame.”

Because of KES, Square 1 is now encouraging the use of its products for service learning, especially as it relates to the service of others, nationwide, Reid said. Square 1 kicked that drive off by giving an extra $800 to the school, he said.

But it’s not just Square 1 that has taken note of what KES kids have done. One-byone, dignitaries took to the microphone at the Nov. 6 assembly to praise the students, including some now attending the Sea Road School, who were still at KES when the art sale took place.

Speakers included representatives from Sen. Angus King’s office, the American Legion Auxiliary – which presented KES with its fundraiser of the year award – and Honor Flight Maine, as well as state Sena. Ron Collins. In addition, Adria Horn, Maine Director of Veterans Services, was on hand representing Gov. Paul LePage.

LePage was so impressed with what the KES kids had done, Horn said, that his office is going to match the effort by also sponsoring five veterans for Honor Flight trips.

“That’s not why we did it, but it is wonderful,” Quinn said. “I’m so proud of this school. We have such an incredibly supportive community.”

And yet, while the art sale may have had what DeFilipp calls “a really nice ripple effect,” no one, from the oldest veteran to the youngest kindergartener, seemed to lose sight Friday of real reason they were gathered in the school gym. It was, said Reid, all about the veterans.

“They are the ones who make us safe here, so we can have these things, and have these nice schools,” he said.

But perhaps the true meaning of the day was best expressed by Woodbury, who – while being given everything from applause, to a handmade quilt, to a commutative baseball bat crafted by Quinn’s father, to top off the D. C. trip – chose instead to reflect on those present only in spirit. All respect, he said, is due to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for ensuring our freedoms. He meant that figuratively for the world, he said, and quite literally, for himself.

“This day has been wonderful,” he said, “but this day, like every day we’ve lived since 1945, was a bonus.”

Return to top