Students put on a play, mail gift packages to soldiers

Photo by Chad Koenen
Brandon Johnson displays a pillow case created by students in Stephanie Jorgenson’s second grade class prior to the Christmas break. Johnson stopped by the class as part of Jorgenson’s annual tribute to soldiers.

By Chad Koenen


There’s no place like home for the holidays—or at the very least, there is no place like a touch of home for the holidays.  ¶  A group of Henning second graders in Stephanie Jorgenson’s class provided local soldiers a special reminder that they would not be forgotten this holiday season. The students hosted two soldiers and their families, while sending care packages to three other soldiers who were serving away from home. The students performed a variety of plays for the soldiers and presented them with a care package for them while they are stationed abroad. 

Since 2015, students in Jorgenson’s classes have provided soldiers a special care package that included hand written letters. It’s just a small gesture to help make the holidays a little brighter for those who are serving their country away from home. 

“It’s the small things that help them get through basic. I didn’t know if my students letters made that much of a difference, but Freedom (Gretchen) Freed made a little binder out of our written support and Brave Brennen (Volkmann) kept our writings in a small box with everything else he had gotten at basic (even though he was home when we wrote, it was still something he treasured),” said Jorgenson. “It means so much to me to be able to be a part of the scene like this. They deserve so much more recognition for the decisions they make and the lessons they learn while they are away.”  

Members of Stephanie Jorgenson’s second grade class performed several plays prior to the Christmas break for soldiers as part of the annual soldier appreciation program at the school.

While in high school, Jorgenson contemplated joining the military. After taking some more time to think about signing up during her family’s move to the Henning area, Jorgenson opted to not join the military, but her appreciation for the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families hasn’t gone unnoticed.  

“At my first teaching job in Fisher, I had my fifth grade class write to my step-brother-in-law, Sam. We named him Solder Sam and kept in touch with him for three months. We didn’t have a luncheon for him, because the timing didn’t work out, but when I came down to Henning, I made it my priority to continue to support the military by writing and sending care packages,” said Jorgenson. “My family has many friends and relatives that are a part of our servicemen and women. I nannied for a family with both mom and dad serving for many years, and now, their daughter that I nannied for is also serving. The cycle is beautiful and I want to continue for many years if I can.”

In the past, students in Jorgenson’s class wrote letters and sent items to a soldier who was serving their country away from home. Typically, they hosted the individual for a lunch at the school if the schedules allowed them to come to Henning. The project is not only a reminder to soldiers that their work is appreciated back home, but also provides a real life learning experience to students who learn how to do the all-too-often forgotten art of writing a letter. 

As part of past projects, students were able to learn about why the servicemen joined the military and some of the jobs they complete in the service. Most years the students perform a play and some songs at the luncheon for the soldier, while also presenting them a special pillowcase that the students sew from start to finish. 

Though Jorgenson usually picks just one or two soldiers to focus on each year, she expanded the project to five families in 2021. Two of the soldiers were able to come to the school for a variety of plays and songs, while the others were sent care packages in time for Christmas.

Brennen Volkmann and Bryce Rach, as well as their families, watched a play at the school prior to Christmas break.

“It’s beyond rewarding and I continue to reach out to find Henning area servicemen/women who are headed off to basic. It’s kind of a once a year run, so for this year, we are closing up our season,” said Jorgenson. “I want to thank all of the Henning people who donated to our care packages this year. We were able to fill nine priority boxes with jerky, socks, pens, soap, tooth paste, tooth brushes, baby wipes, ramen noodles, popcorn, and various drawings and writings from my students. It was so rewarding to watch all of the donations come in and be packaged up. The students helped organize and sort the items and decide what went into each box. We appreciated it all.”

Over the years, students have written to soldiers in the Coast Guard, National Guard, Marines, Army and Air Force. The only branch of the military they have not written to is the Navy. 

Since 2015, Jorgenson’s classes have written to the following soldiers: Soldier Sam (Hanson of Fargo), Freedom Freed (Gretchen Freed), Tough Guy TJ (Rinicker), Kool Kat Kendra (Thoennes from Parkers Prairie), G.I. Jack (Grabe), Christian Rose, Brave Brennen (Volkmann), Battle Guy Bryce (Rach), Bold Brandon (Johnson), Jeremiah Sapp (father of a student) and Ema Stockie.

“I’m blessed to be in the career field that I am in. I hope that one day the influence that these military members have on the students encourages at least one of my former students to enlist. I hope that one day a student comes back to me and says, ‘Mrs. Jorgenson, can your kids write to me?’”

Stepahnie Jorgenson