This coming Veterans Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, is going to be a very special day for remembering and honoring Kingwood area veterans at the Creekwood Middle School Veteran’s Honor Garden.
In addition to honoring our veterans, the annual ceremony will mark the 10th anniversary since this unique and beautiful memorial became a reality.
Since 2011, it has been a place where families remember, students learn and the community honors those who have served, including those who have died for this great nation that makes all our lives possible. This year, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw will be the special guest speaker. The ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. in the Creekwood gymnasium and will conclude with a candlelight ceremony and the playing of taps at the honor garden. The public is enthusiastically invited to attend.
The honor garden itself is also something to celebrate. It is not only beautiful, it is unique; the result of years of dedicated hard work by the Creekwood Middle School staff, students and supporters in the community who made it all possible. Jan York, a Creekwood science teacher and longtime Kingwood resident, has been a key player in making it all happen. Others at Creekwood have described her as the heart behind the project from the beginning right up to today. One teacher described her as the person who makes it all happen year in and year out. She knows the garden’s history perhaps better than anyone else.
York moved to Kingwood when she first came to Houston in 1972. Prior to that, she had graduated from Purdue University and had been a teacher in both St. Louis and Chicago. When she and her husband moved to Kingwood, she left teaching to raise her family. A few years later, she and friends opened a small fabric shop in the new Deerbrook Mall when it first opened. As time went on, circumstances occurred among them all which made it prudent to sell the business. At that point she decided to get her Texas teaching certificate and return to teaching while her children were in middle school.
“I thought I would never teach again,” York said as she explained how she ended up teaching science at Creekwood Middle School. Since then, she has loved every minute of it. Early on she became especially involved in the service learning program that is part of Humble Independent School District’s overall educational philosophy.
“I latched onto service learning. What service learning tries to do is teach kids at the same time as they are serving,” York said. She explained it is all about integrating service and reflection with education. Students gain valuable experience as they apply academic skills to empower those in need through mutually beneficial activities for both campus and community.
In 2008, a Creekwood service project resulted in her becoming involved in the effort to create a new national World War I memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., York said. She explained it replaced, but also included, an older memorial named Pershing Park.
“Through service learning we hosted the first exhibit of David Dejonge’s World War I veteran portraits which had previously been unveiled at the Pentagon. We raised $16,000 for the cause and traveled to Washington, D.C. to personally present the check to Frank Buckles at his West Virginia farmhouse, tour the Capitol with Rep. Ted Poe and visit the original World War I exhibit with the photographer, David DeJonge,” York said. She explained Buckles was the last surviving World War I veteran and had campaigned hard to create a new national World War I memorial after seeing the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II memorials become honored realities. Poe was on the committee to create the new World War I memorial and he has been an active supporter of the Creekwood Honor Garden from the beginning. Buckles passed away in 2011 at the age of 110. There is a bench in the honor garden honoring Buckles and another honoring former US Rep. Ted Poe who is also a U.S. Air Force veteran.
York explained as a result of involvement with the World War I service project, the Creekwood teachers realized there was an interest in honoring those who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially those who had returned home with severe injuries or who had died. They put on a public concert with students in the choir, orchestra, theater, band and art. As a result, they were able to send $5,000 to Wounded Warriors. At school, the week of the concert, students decorated their classroom doors and learned of the local area soldiers who had been killed recently in those wars. Three of them had attended Kingwood High School and one of them had attended Creekwood Middle school.
York explained it was teacher and coach Terra Farmer whom she remembers as first wishing there was a place in the community to honor those who served.
“She had the vision for the Veteran’s Honor Garden and led fundraisers to get a commemorative brick place of honor dedicated to those from the area who served,” York said. She explained another teacher, Vicki Ligon and her husband, Bob, became involved, and it was Bob who designed, planned and constructed the final design.
“Mr. Ligon created a truly one-of -a-kind memorial. It is the only star shaped memorial of its kind in the state of Texas,” York said. She pointed out when the central flagpole was placed, the emblems of all five military services were embedded in the base of the pole. Radiating out from the center are the commemorative bricks. There are currently 250 bricks.
“You can imagine that every brick here represents someone’s personal story. It is incredibly special to each of those who served. Our Rep. Ted Poe always says ‘the greatest casualty of war is to be forgotten.’ As you can see by the phrase ‘NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN,’ we at Creekwood have not forgotten and know freedom is not free. Some of those whose names are on the bricks ‘gave all’ and three young men from right here in Kingwood ‘gave all’ for each of us so that we are free to enjoy life.”