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A slice of American pie in the Legion hall basement

Americanism Essay Contest winners, shown just before reading the essays at the Ottawa American Legion Auxiliary’s meeting Monday evening in the basement of the Legion hall, are (from left) Drew Damron, Alexis Johnson, Zoe Harris, Lydia Oker and Emily Zollars.
Americanism Essay Contest winners, shown just before reading the essays at the Ottawa American Legion Auxiliary’s meeting Monday evening in the basement of the Legion hall, are (from left) Drew Damron, Alexis Johnson, Zoe Harris, Lydia Oker and Emily Zollars.

Do you wonder what happened to the small town American patriotism that artist Norman Rockwell used to depict?

Monday evening it was on display in the basement of the American Legion hall in Ottawa.

The post’s Auxiliary — the organization for female relatives of Legionnaires — had invited the five winners of its annual Americanism Essay Contest to read their entries.

Besides the winners were two dozen audience members — parents, grandparents, siblings and well-wishers who sat on folding chairs. In the back row also was Shepherd Middle School literature and language arts teacher Linda Dannenberger: three of the winners were her students.

This year’s essay topic had been “What National Monument Means the Most to Me.”

The winners were:

u Lydia Oker, a winner last year from Marquette Academy who now attends Rosary High School in Aurora. She wrote about the Statue of Liberty.

u Emily Zollars, a senior at Marquette Academy. She wrote about the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

u From Shepherd Middle School were eighth-graders Zoe Harris, who wrote about the Iwo Jima Memorial; Drew Damron, who wrote about Korean War Veterans Memorial; and Alexis Johnson, who also wrote about the Statue of Liberty.

The entries were submitted for competition at the district level with gratifying results. Oker took first and her essay was entered at the division level. Zollars and Harris had placed as runners-up.

“A very proud day for our unit,” said Jean Firlik, of the Ottawa Auxiliary.

After the Pledge of Allegiance and other meeting traditions, each of the five students was called forward to read their essay and receive enthusiastic applause and a monetary gift.

The essays were a combination of facts and feelings, and, for some, an awakening to family contributions by the military service of a father, grandfather or great-grandfather.

Those associations added something to their essays, said Debora Parisot, the retired La Salle-Peru Township High School teacher who judged the essays and was present for the meeting.

“When the student connected the monument with someone personally in their life — a family member — you could tell it really meant a lot to them,” she said.

It was Parisot’s first time as an essay judge. She said reading the essays was enjoyable, but hearing them was exciting.

“They really seemed to come alive when they read them,” she said.

It’s a part of the American experience for anyone to enjoy: the first-place winners are invited to read their essays at Ottawa’s Memorial Day ceremony.

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