VFW honors essay winners, Teacher of the Year
Expressing their views on democracy, four students representing St. Francis placed in the top 10 in the city for the 2013-2014 Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest sponsored by VFW Post 1638 of Merrill.
Winners of the competition were eighth graders Zach Mootz taking first place followed by Rachel Rell in second place. Seventh grade students Olivia Wheat and Bobby Hinner placed eighth and ninth.
The competition was open to all middle school students in grades six through eight and included 261 participants from four Merrill schools plus several home school students. Local winners will advance to district and possibly state and national competition. The top national prize is a $5,000 scholarship.
“St. Francis students got really involved about five or six years ago and they have really excelled,” said Russ Iwen, local chairman of the Patriot’s Pen, Voice of Democracy Contest and Teacher of the Year Award sponsored by VFW Post 1638.
Entrants in the Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest from St. Francis are students in Kathy Kasper’s Language Arts program.
“I thought they all had good papers,” Kasper said. “It’s a national competition, so that’s pretty cool. They aren’t just competing with their classmates. They are competing against the city and the nation.”
The theme for the 2013-2014 Patriot’s Pen Essay Contest, “What Patriotism Means to Me,” was selected by the national VFW Commander in Chief. Local entries were judged anonymously by a panel of three judges. Points were awarded for knowledge of the theme, theme development and clarity of ideas.
“They all had to write about patriotism,” said Iwen, a member of the VFW since 1976. “Some essays were about what things they are doing to help out their communities and some were thanking our soldiers. They were all different.”
Mootz, who placed sixth and twelfth in previous Patriot’s Pen competitions, based his winning essay on the concept of freedom and the sacrifices others have made.
“It’s a good thing to think about the theme and to think of what others have done for you,” he said. “I put a lot of thought into it. I think I learned to take advantage of the freedoms we have in this country. We have the freedom to practice our religion and to vote for who we want.”
Rell, who enjoyed the experience of writing about patriotism for her second place finish, has entered the essay contest each year since she was eligible.
“I think it’s a really good experience with writing and thinking about patriotism and your country and what that means to you,” she said. “It helped me to realize how I can help my country and show my patriotism.”
VFW Post 1638 also chose St. Francis teacher Patti Gessler as the 2013-2014 Merrill Teacher of the Year. A religion, art and phy ed teacher at the school, Gessler advanced to state competition where she received Honorable Mention.
“As a teacher she is just excellent,” said VFW Ladies Auxiliary member and St. Francis parent Alicia Weix, who nominated Gessler for the award. “She’s a good role model for the students and a phenomenal person.”
Gessler and the Patriot’s Pen winners will be honored at the local VFW Winter Banquet Jan. 25 at the Eagles Club in Merrill.